The Establishment: Fool Brittania

Shortly after the schoolmaster arrives, the flat part of his mortarboard hat falls off and we know we’re in for a very silly ride. ‘Hello children’ he says – and for the next hour we are Year 9 pupils attending classes in History and Physics. With no discernible political or social agenda, it’s an exercise in pure daftness performed by deadpan Dan Lees and smiley Neil Frost, who complement each other perfectly as the clown duo playing multiple parts.

Lees begins as the sadistic Headmaster, inviting us to throw hoops and balls at the terrified supply teacher (played by Frost). We move on to History lessons featuring Britain’s first settlers, who take us through the development of British ball sports. Next is a surreal and anachronistic encounter with two Romans in Britain, as Luigi teaches Hadrian the art of the pick-up in a Café Nero’s, with accents somewhere between Naples and Peckham. We meet some Vikings in their very short Long Boat, a travelling minstrel singing Bob Dylan style songs, and a jester struggling to remove his St George’s Dragon outfit.

I find that some clown acts can be somewhat self-indulgent, ever chasing the nirvana that lies just off the cuff. This show, by contrast, is built upon solid routines for the duo to riff off, featuring well-chosen musical tracks, perfectly mid-naff costumes and impeccable comic timing. It’s often the repetition and exaggeration of silly ideas that pokes at us as we teeter on the edge of titters before falling headlong into guffaws, and you hear these plummets going off in the audience around you as individuals reach their personal tipping points.

After the History lesson, a saucy dinner lady serves up Mash, Mash and more Mash, before the bell rings for Physics. This cleverly constructed section ends in a song about Space, Time, Energy and whatever else the audience suggests. Again, the humour is generated from the ridiculous commitment to a basic idea taken to extremes. By now, the audience are very willing participants in the mayhem, and heartily join in with the school hymn, sung at ‘the top of our lungs from the bottom of our hearts’.

Is all the corpsing genuine? – I suspect not, and I’d personally prefer a little less, but these skilful clowns clearly know how to work the audience and it’s a joy to witness the effects of such assured absurdity.




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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.