Fringe Review: Clown Lights Stage

by Jane

In a mix up with the lecture theatres at Adelaide University, Alice Mary Cooper, of the University of Sydney, has been forced to present her APAM lecture in an abandoned room of the Tuxedo Cat. Her lecture, something way too intellectual for me to recall here, certainly has something to do post-modern and post-post-modern performance art in Australia as a process of six-months immersive practice. I simultaneously am horrified at the idea of sitting through such a presentation, and actually completely intrigued and know I would probably take time out of my day to listen.

It’s not to be, though. Alice searches through her bag, and realising she has left her notes in the car she asks us to just sit tight one moment. Outside we hear crash, bang, sirens. Silence.

The door at the rear of the theatre opens, and sliding along the wall, wavering smile under her red nose, is Clown (Cooper). A fan, perhaps of Alice, she is her to save the day and perform Alice’s lecture: if only she can face up to her audience.

What ensues is a play off between the various topics to be covered in Alice’s lecture, and Clown desperate interpretation. While Cooper’s show is built around the clowning side of the performance, for many involved in theatre much of the humour comes from the lecture slides.

The show works best when Cooper pulls out the physical comedy in the clowning, and, oddly, many of these moments are related to food – or at least, eating. Needing energy, she coats her body in Nutella. In response to Alice’s topic ‘Test the limitations of naturalism in theatre by eating a whole English breakfast on stage’ Clown consumes a whole English Breakfast tea-bag on stage. Without water. Just a tea-bag. She also consumed tampons – ensuring much discussion was had at following shows as to just what does happen when you chew on tampons.  It’s these moments, the banal and every day used in a crooked sense of reality, where Cooper finds the most joy for the audience.

Outside of these moments, the production is intermittently successful. Why Clown felt it was a good idea to present the lecture – particularly in the light of her initial stage fright – isn’t ever questioned. As I frequently do with clowning shows, I was curious as to how stupid, or apart from our world the clown character was supposed to be: of course this separation from reality is where the humour comes from, but particularly at the top of the show (where, I suppose, it needs to be the most heightened to establish the character) there is a while to adjust to this characterisation. Occasionally the scenes go on for slightly too long.

And yet, Cooper manages to carry her audience through all of this. In underpants and a singlet, Clown’s endearing awkwardness, her touching heart, and just being so entirely earnest in her attempts to present the lecture makes her an easy character to route for.

I saw Clown Light Stage on February 28. On March 5, Cooper posted on her blog:

This will be a very brief post. I am very tired. But also happy. After a journey that began almost two years ago in the studios at @ShopfrontArts, Sydney, tonight, I did the show I have been aspiring to for all this time. It has changed and changed and changed and changed so many times, even this week, even during shows, even tonight, but cest soir I finished and I was just so very happy I wanted to hug the audience (who were delightful this evening). So, of course this comes one night before I close my Fringe season here in Adelaide, but as the saying goes, better late than never. Suppose I’ll just have to go to Edinburgh…

So, I didn’t get to quite see the show Cooper had been aspiring to do. But I think that is a beautiful statement about the nature of developing work: and as an audience member for one brief show, I perhaps in some small way had the opportunity to be a part of it. Would I have loved to see that particular performance? Absolutely. But it’s not about me. It’s about Cooper and the audience who were lucky enough to have her on that night – and who she was lucky enough to have on that night. I love that Cooper could share when she reached her aspirations, even (or perhaps especially) if a part of that is admitting that it didn’t always all go exactly to plan. And I love that this crazy time of year in this crazy city gave her the chance to find what she was looking for.

Alice Mary Cooper presents Clown Lights Stage. In the Tuxedo Cat’s Cat Bowl for the Adelaide Fringe. Season closed.