The phone rings. The pair of clowns onstage are waiting for the big call – the one from an international festival that will make them stars. Nope, not this time…
Both are in traditional dress and make-up. One is definitely of higher status: tall, slim, obviously in charge – and the base in the highly skilled acrobalance routines that follow. The other is the Auguste, the anarchic fool (although both men bear the traditional Auguste clown ‘muzzle’ and white and black eye make-up, with little red noses painted on). He wears a baggy, horizontally-striped suit – as opposed to his partner’s flattering vertically-striped suit which shows off his manly figure. The opening sequence, in which our foolish friend refuses to be hoisted up onto his partner’s shoulders, terrified that he’ll fall and die, but of course eventually gets forced up, is a beautiful demonstration of classic acrobatic clowning. All communication between the two is through physical action, or a kind of nonsense grommelage with the occasional French or English word thrown in (the company are from Montreal, Quebec).
The phone rings again – it’s an offer! But not the one they were hoping for. They’ve been asked to perform at a children’s party! Now it gets interesting, as the clowns subvert the mores of traditional clowning (with no doubt an ironic comment in there about what depths some contemporary clowning has sunk to).
Out higher status friend goes backstage and comes back on in a ludicrously wide and luridly patterned outfit, and a ridiculous orange wig. He has an equally garish outfit for his partner, plus a turquoise wig which is strongly resisted – but of course, the boss wins.
The story of the kid’s party that goes wrong plays out beautifully. Bunches of balloon flowers are burst, and the foolish one (or at least, the one who is foolish and knows it) manages to push blame onto an audience member. A beautifully crafted balloon poodle is torn to shreds. There is popcorn. And more popcorn. And more popcorn…
Skills-wise: gorgeous comic acrobalance / hand-to-hand moves, combining skill and humour effortlessly; a wonderfully whimsical hand-balancing act on chairs, as the traditional clown scenario of the imaginary date is played out (with a brilliantly nasty twist); and really clever working of the audience, who lap up every moment. I enjoy everything, although the gym work-out section feels a little bit jaded – mostly down to the fact that I really don’t think I can bear to hear Eye of the Tiger used as part of a comic act ever again (or maybe they were being double-bluff ironic in choosing a track that is not only hackneyed but over-used ironically?). Elsewhere, the soundtrack is fine, with lots of nice trombone interludes.
Our two clowns – Rémi Jacques and Jean-Félix Bélanger – know their stuff. We are safe in their hands, and the show works on many different levels. The youngsters took it all at face value (although they are never played down to in a demeaning way), the adults enjoyed the knowing double-takes, and those of us with an interest in the art of clowning enjoyed the playing with form at the heart of the piece.
So a grand success for Kombini’s UK debut – and great to see a show built around traditional clowning (that is usurped as well as honoured) programmed at the Circus Hub for Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Featured image (Top): Cirque Les Foutoukours: Kombini. Photo by Carl Archambault