Had I known that buying a ticket for Fools & Clowns that I would be walking into a clown show, I would have moved on. But it was slow-minded of me not to pick up the clue in the title of the play. Yet funnily enough the play with the ‘fools’ and the ‘clowns’ jumping up and over the audience seats and blowing bubbles turned out to be one of the smartest and substantial plays on offer at Krêkvars.
The play is very interactive: two clowns with stoics expressions greet you at the foyer and try to block your way. If you make it inside the theatre you meet the kind of sheer chaos you would encounter in a house with many spoiled kids. Which is exactly what the clowns were. Painted faces zip around between the rows of seats and aisles of the audience area while the big sister tries, unsuccessfully to rein them in. One would be forgiven to mistake her for the mother, as she has all the right, austere features for a mother long used to contending with a circus of younglings: a long, forbidding nose to accentuate a chiding expression, and thin but strong lips ready to release the tongue to let rip. Another clown who looks, er, lacking up there, is blowing bubbles at the stage. Another is sitting atop a folding step ladder. Another is stretching on the floor in a purple leotard.
The opening scenes are wild, crazy, rather pointless and all over all the place—or stage rather — whether in a good or bad way is debatable. The clowns communicate in a ridiculous made-up language as the narrator who’s the clown that sat on top of the ladder points out. Apart from the moment where pieces of bread are tossed out to the audience in another interactive instance, the play at this point stops being entertaining and sit tarts becoming tempting to zone out. But then the family breaks out into a funny gumboot dance and then a Shosholoza rendition, yanking back our attention. All of the moments before then are made to seem a meaningless or mildly interesting run-up to an entertaining set of song and dance with a bouncy, lively soundtrack from the speakers.
There feature a few suggestive and strongly suggestive moments in the play. In the following scene two tall male clowns encounter a diapered female clown. One of them approaches the child and makes a ceremony of touching the tip of her noise. After wagging his eyebrows, his sidekick repeats this more slowly and overtly this time and while the child moans and cries they burst out into the kind of giddy, celebratory mirth that comes over two boys having a conversation about their latest trysts. If the three of them are supposed to be a family, the nose-touching is almost an incestuous gesture, a portentous sign of the chaos that is about to fall. And the play treads into darker, more disturbing territory.
The narrator announces the on-set of a ‘revolution,’ of anarchy and chaos as the previous regime of the strict but unsuccessful parents is overthrown and replaced with nothing. One of the sisters, the clown with the purple leotard, is pounced on by her two siblings, and they violate her almost. They blur her face, literally defacing it, and feast on her limbs. In the background a company of more clowns smear each other’s painted faces at will, with enjoyment, as though the act were their drug of choice. The violated clown stands up shakily and leans to her left to find something with which to balance herself but finds nothing and stumbles. She’s blind. And one is suddenly struck by the metaphor, the allegory of a decadent and declining state of things, a city, a soul, even a household.
Soon they all ‘turn on themselves’ as revolutionaries do, the narrator says to the thumping and pacey drum blasting through the speakers. The clowns return with new, wilder, insane faces. From the edges they crawl towards their prey and feast upon the innocent. The purple clown is no more. They break into a wild frenzy in the metaphor of a ‘Thriller’-like number hearkening back to Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit. The clowns ‘amalgamate’ into one huge monster that cannot be stopped. ‘This is not what I had planned,’ sings one of the brothers. And he too is devoured by the insurmountable monster.
The play did well to pick itself up swiftly from the dreary, disorientingly loud descend it had opened with. It’s unorthodox and a play that is very easy to judge as childish, unimportant and easy fun. Yet beneath the red noses, the white make-up and boisterous calamity lies a significant and intelligent warning of the ease which with chaos can come about—if it is allowed.