Clowns: not just for the serious analysis of existential terror
Despite a scenario that seems to allude to Beckett's Waiting for God – two men unable to escape their situation seeks solutions and fail – Coulrophobia's structure emerges from the episodic antics of the clowns, Dik and Adam, rather than a measured response to an absurd universe. Dik and Adam are compelled to perform – even being transformed repeatedly into grotesque human puppets – and desperately struggle, even attempting to sacrifice audience members. Yet change is impossible and the hysteria that they invoke both humorous and despairing.
Surprisingly, the duo make few concessions to the seriousness of their plight: each scene is played for laughs. Even the arrival of a terrifying puppet – their boss – who punishes the pair with a sadistic glee – is hilarious. A brief show in the style of Punch and Judy; a masterclass on sock puppetry (that ends in broken fingers); abrupt and aggressive audience interaction: Dik and Adam are the ferocious clowns of nightmares, amplifying the horror for wild comic effect.
The manipulate festival's ethos – to present Scottish audiences with intelligent and skillful visual theatre from around the world – can be mistaken for dour seriousness: in Coulrophobia, however, it is clear that clowning can be childish and intelligent, frightening and funny, savage and empathetic, without losing either a sense of mischief or showcasing remarkable skills.
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, run ended.