Author Archives: Matt Rudkin


About Matt Rudkin

Matt Rudkin is a theatre maker and teacher who creates work as Inconvenient Spoof. He has a BA in Creative Arts, an MA in Performance Studies, and studied with Philippe Gaulier (London), and The Actors Space (Spain). He was founder and compere of Edinburgh’s infamous Bongo Club Cabaret, concurrently working as maker and puppeteer with The Edinburgh Puppet Company. He has toured internationally as a street theatre performer with The Incredible Bull Circus, and presented more experimental work at The Green Room, CCA, Whitstable Biennale, ICA, Omsk and Shunt Lounge. He is also a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Visual Art at the University of Brighton.

HiJinx w/ Spymonkey: The Flop

 If you are currently experiencing erectile dysfunction this may not be the show for you – or perhaps it will be just the tonic if laughter truly is the best medicine. The Flop tells the real-life story of the Marquis de Langey, the last man to suffer ‘Trial by Congress’, which required a husband to disprove a charge of impotence by having sex with his wife in a public court. Proving his inability was a wife’s only way of being granted a divorce.

The ‘flop’ of the title refers to both the flaccidity of the uninspired penis, and the term Jacques Lecoq used to describe the clown’s ability to make an art of failure. The show is produced by inclusive theatre company, Hijinks, in association with renowned British clown troupe, Spymonkey. Their influence is clear in the style of the show, from the slapstick visual gags, comedic songs, a tsunami of puns, in-japes about theatrical conventions, and even a trademark naked bottom.

The briefly appearing bottom belongs to Jess Mable Jones, who is perhaps the standout performer in a strong cast and demonstrates great comic ability.  The ensemble of six also includes some performers with learning disabilities, who also show clear comic talent. In particular Jonathan Pugh as ‘David the Manservant’ has a few scene-stealing turns, as he fumbles with cases, mimes absent doors and plays the Spanish maracas. Having a learning disabled actor playing the part of a dim-witted character might cause ripples of concern, but I enjoyed this bold choice, and my experience working in Inclusive Performance environments gives me confidence that everyone here is respected and having fun. This ‘inclusive’ element of the casting becomes the normality of the show-world pretty quickly, and we get on with enjoying the antics on stage.

The set consists of moveable flats with hidden doors and windows, finely decorated in the style of the period and rearranged to create different scenes.  The costumes are also of notably high quality and the whole production has a very professional look, further complemented by live musical numbers. It is full of visual gags and daft wordplay which, for the large part, had the audience in gleeful titters. The couple in bed is represented by the characters standing and holding up a sheet. When they discuss the logic of this, the servants suddenly fall to the floor to maintain illusion: it’s simple and silly and funny. She asks, ‘Do you mind if I spoon?’ and then whips out a set of spoons from under her dress which she begins to play. When the Marquis goes on a business trip after four years of an apparently happy marriage, he receives a letter from his wife suing him for impotence. This is delivered in the cinematic convention whereby we simultaneously see the wife writing and hear the husband reading, which confuses her, much to our amusement.

There are plenty of visual absurdities, too, including David’s highly anachronistic appearance as a robotic processor of the court’s decision, and the too-tall hat of Dominic the chef, whose hedgehog dream suddenly manifests before our eyes in wholly surreal fashion. Judging from the audience reactions, this daft mayhem clearly has the ability to provoke hearty laughter. I felt it dipped a little at times, like the breakfast ingredient routine, which returned a modest pay-off for quite a lot of build-up. However, this is a new show premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe before a UK tour, so any early wrinkles will have time for ironing out.  It has great potential and there is already plenty about it to commend and enjoy.




A & E comedy: Enter the Dragons

It’s turning out to be a festival of funny feminist theatre for me. This one is a highly engaging show built upon an excellent script that tells the mythological tale of an ageing protagonist’s quest to confront the mighty Kronos, God of time. It combines snappy dialogue full of smart and pertinent jokes, a medley of hilarious costumed characters, and a versatile set providing plenty of visual surprises. It is also finely structured to maintain forward momentum through the story, and a clear sense of purpose as it addresses the topic.

It begins with the entrance of two fantastically costumed shamanic figures, to the sound of drones and horns. The performers emerge from these and introduce themselves as two ladies in their 50s, ‘on the turn’ and becoming ‘free of the shackles of being physically attractive’. They are here to confront the process of ageing through the telling of a mythological tale. This marks one of multiple breaks from the action, in which the performers share real stories from their lives. These interludes serve to ensure we’re all following the metaphors, and rescue themselves from becoming too earnest or over-explanatory by timely self-deprecations and sudden returns to comic grotesquery. The piece also references the ambiguities and contradictions between a feminist repudiation that ageing should matter, and their own desire for a handsome young man to turn up along the way.

They take turns playing the part of the Protagonist, who first encounters a three-headed spirit guide who gives three magical gifts – a Tongue Sharpener, some Spectacles of Insight, and a Cloak of Invisibility (a long, beige and baggy cardigan that renders the older woman invisible to society). The metaphors are both humorous and insightful, and whilst punctuated with whimsical asides, the show sticks to its journey to deliver a coherent narrative and a reflective parody of our deepest concerns.

Other characters include two snaggle-toothed seers, an Italian cosmetic surgeon, and a long-haired gatekeeper – all wonderful creations which feature the best use of wigs I have witnessed in a very long time. There’s a very endearing puppet scene performed by a volunteer from the audience, and a spectacular shiny celebration of diva-hood at the end. Kronos does indeed deliver a satisfyingly persuasive philosophical take-away, and we get an inspiring song in which they reject the notion of a ‘bucket list’ in favour of a ‘fuck-it list’.

Overall, it’s a finely honed marriage of style and content, with the frequently hilarious stage business employed to serve a greater purpose: super-efficient, highly effective and near flawless. Whether or not they themselves can fully embrace Kronos’s advice, I’m not sure, but I imagine that creating a clear Fringe hit like this must have potent powers of rejuvenation.





Bastiaan Vandendriessche: De Fuut

In this intimate and unnerving performance, Bastiaan Vandendriessche performs his own monologue, playing the part of a scout leader with paedophilic desires. The character is disconcertingly matter-of-fact and at times gleeful, without a hint of contrition or even awareness that his beliefs and behaviours may be controversial. We, the audience, seem to play several roles; at times we are his confidantes, at others we are the young scouts under his ‘care’. The experience of viewing the show is rendered even more disconcerting by the performer’s very close proximity to the audience. In this venue it is set in a large hall, which serves as a cavernous backdrop to a very intimate performance. He also maintains near-constant eye contact with his audience, flitting between us, sometimes lingering to deliver a short paragraph whilst staring, unblinking, into one person’s eyes. At times he also asks questions and invites responses, really playing our sense of who we are meant to be and if replying is appropriate.

He describes fantasies of a holiday with two young girls, and recollects grooming games with the scouts. Without going into details, he mentions ‘tactical deep kissing’; a night game that requires a girl to take the morning after pill, for which she receives 20 points; and totemic initiation rituals.  Some of his adult colleagues also have similar inclinations, suggesting such abuse may be rife in the scouting community. Very rarely does he describe specific sexual acts, indeed, he claims never to have acted on his desires. He also describes the children with a degree of affection. Nonetheless, these creepily candid confessions, when combined with the proximity of his presence, are liable to make this an uncomfortable encounter for most attendees. I found that maintaining any critical distance was very difficult, and actually felt like I’d lost the thread of his stories and philosophical meanderings on several occasions.

He also describes making a show called De Fuut that will be very successful and travel around many festivals. This strong suggestion that the person before us is actually a real person rather than a fictional invention is reiterated at several points during the piece. His discourse is also very realistic, in the sense that it could pass for a transcribed audio recording from a prison cell confession of a real paedophile. We also hear a supposed recording of a conversation with the two young women, Leida and Emma, which sounds authentic (though it is in Dutch). We are thereby led to entertain the possibility that this author/performer is actually hiding in plain sight, and these really are his fantasies and his experiences. He claims to have been inspired by Nabokov’s book Lolita, which might be true of both the character and the writer, and made me wonder if I’d prefer to be reading this monologue, or watching it as a film. Perhaps it if he just retreated into the space at times it might give us some respite.

Vandendriessche is a strong performer and the writing is layered, nuanced and finely crafted. He definitely has created an intensely engaging piece that provides an effective showcase for his talents. Whether or not the people who witness it will be thankful they did will surely depend on what they’re looking for in a theatrical experience. It is likely to arouse significant self-consciousness, and quite possibly distress for those who have experienced sexual abuse. At moments, as I glanced at some older men on the front row, I wondered if any of them had experienced sexual desire towards children, and it struck me that this piece has a responsibility towards any potential perpetrators too. It plays this game with the audience of whether it’s real or not in a way that might provoke hostility. Immediately after the performance, out of character, he does acknowledge that the subject matter is sensitive (which is, of course, described in the publicity) and offers to stay behind to discuss it with whoever may wish to, which seems a wise offer to make.  However it lands with you, it is likely to provoke much reflection and debate.





Natalie Palamides: Nate

Sometimes I review shows that aren’t really my kind of thing but are seemingly very good at the thing they do and other people seem to get a lot from them.  Then I have to try to be honest about my own experience whilst acknowledging the clear quality of the work. This intelligent clown show by Natalie Palamides, by contrast, is exactly my kind of thing. It pushes all my buttons and ticks all my boxes, so I’ll try my best not to just gush all over it.  She won Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year for her show Laid, which I loved, and this follow-up did not disappoint.

Whilst Laid seemed to be an absurdist fool-around with the concept and properties of eggs, with perhaps the subtlest hint of social comment, Nate is more intentionally and clearly about something: male identity and the ethics of sexual conduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The ‘Nate’ of the title is a mini macho man with a Super Mario moustache who arrives on a mini-motorbike and struts about with a cocky swagger. We might expect that this will become a pointed parody of chauvinism, but instead, we get a sympathetic exploration of what it must be like to be this kind of guy struggling to fulfil his desires, maintain his sense of himself and do the right thing.  This tone is hinted at in the online description which begins; ‘for the first time in history it’s hard to be a man.’

Soon after arriving, Nate hands out some beers to members of the audience and says that whoever can drink theirs the fastest can do whatever they like to whoever they like in the room. This creates an atmosphere of anticipation and danger, not least because Palamides is clearly topless beneath Nate’s jacket with drawn on chest hair covering her torso.  What will the winner do? What would I do? What do I want to do? What will it say about me if I do that?

Palamides has an excellent rapport with the audience and cajoles volunteers into hilarious and heart-warming interactions, from which they all emerge intact and enhanced. Moreover, these interactions all serve the greater storyline: Nate is heartbroken over his ex, who he recognises in the audience with a new boyfriend, who he challenges to a wrestle. During the wrestling s/he purposefully pats on the topless opponents man-breasts, as if encouraging him to do likewise. The themes of consent and responsibility reoccur in subtle ways throughout, with Nate keen to demonstrate that he always asks, “May I?” before engaging in intimate acts.  Nate also attends adult art classes during his Edinburgh stay, and becomes involved in a drunken triste on the meadows with his teacher who passes out, leading Nate into tortured soul-searching over whether he has done something wrong.

I should emphasise that throughout this exploration it is continuously very, very funny.  It’s not like there are funny bits and then meaningful bits, but rather the humour is derived from our insights into Nate’s psychology.   And this is why I think it is such a good example of the power and purpose of clowning: it points to universal human truths through highly entertaining and accessible means conducted with an invigorating sense of daring.



The Cutlery Crew: Coccinellidae

My preferred search engine informs me that Coccinellidae is the proper (Latin) term for the family of beetles commonly referred to as Ladybirds. The relevance of this to the show is unclear to me, except for the fact the performer ends up dressed as one. When I first saw the title I suspected this would be an avant-garde piece so titled to create some sense of complexity and depth. The reality could not be further from the truth; this was a highly enjoyable, accessible and uplifting celebration of ‘bigness’ that kept me smiling throughout. The solo performer, Amanda Kelleher, is big in stature, heart and comic talent, and conjures up a clown show that encourages women to resist the ‘minimising’ influences of society and ‘have a bloody big life!’

There is a great deal of easy-going and effective audience interaction as she tells stories of her nights out with the girls, and shares advice on how to do sleepovers.  She introduces us to Chantelle her best friend (here represented by a blow-up doll), who engages in a ‘silent protest against the patriarchy’. In one section she dances to a collage of pop tunes, suggesting all the roles women have come to expect of themselves to accomplish; as Mother, Lover, Professional – but this brand of feminism is much more about female camaraderie and sisterhood than a tirade against injustice.

The hour is punctuated by sections of pre-recorded interviews with women about their femininity, which are insightful and thought-provoking and that also have a positive and encouraging tone. They are underscored by gentle music whilst the performer enacts, abstract gestures that evoke a sense of enjoyment of the body.  There are a variety of costume changes and the transformation of wardrobe centre-stage into a booth of female delights, but I won’t ruin the surprise by giving more details. Throughout this material there is a continual stream of rib-tickling humour that ensures the show provides an oasis of heart-warming and life-affirming fun in the midst of the Edinburgh festival month hubbub.