I’ve been a Fool. I am a Fool, I mean. I’ve been learning how to be a proper Fool in Edinburgh. And then I got the chance to see a pair of real clowns, ibaccala, from Switzerland, a man and a woman, who were appearing at the fringe. This was their penultimate performance we were told in lilting English by their prop man.
The stage in the community centre is bare and dimly lit. The woman walks out from the wings into the middle. She is wearing a dark overcoat and red boots. Her frizzy hair sticks out under a brimless hat. And she’s holding a red box. Don’t know what’s in it. She steps forward and…nothing.
Well, I say nothing. She looks at the box, then she looks inside it. She looks up at us in the auditorium. And she looks off to the side, to where she’s come from, waiting for someone. She looks cross, as if she’s saying, ‘Come on! Where are you? What’s keeping you?’ One more time, she opens the box and closes it again. This is all that’s happening and she is completely capturing. Her eyes are highlighted to show off the beautiful white orbs around her deep brown irises.
Suddenly, the young man, her partner, runs, stumbles, walks onto the stage. And they begin to play. She takes a red apple out of the box and looks at it while he looks at her. It’s hilarious. You know what’s coming now and when it does – he points offstage and she looks, so he can take the apple from her hand. So funny! Everyone in the audience is smiling and giggling.
She throws off her coat. There’s music playing, like Parisian street music, very uplifting with a foot tapping beat. Or it could be Piazzola…lots of accordion and brass. I’ve not been sure till now but I know deep down that I’m going to like this. I’ve already seen the ‘Look’, the eye contact made with the audience out front; the ‘Look’ between the clowns, sideways. And the third ‘Look’, downwards to the object; just as we’d been taught by our tutor, Angela.
What will happen next? Suddenly, they stop playing. All their attention is out front on us in the audience. What is it? They seem surprised, uncomfortable. Something has happened but what? They’ve seen something, someone..? Looks pass between them. They gesture ‘After you’. She curtseys. He bows, awkwardly. So, that’s it. Royalty are in the house! I even glance across before catching myself. Now, we’re in for some serious clowning, only we appear to have the two most inept fools ever.
Really, no, really, they are hopeless. I realise the soundtrack has stopped and the hall has fallen silent. He’s so bad or nervous that he can’t even throw a top on a line without it landing on his head. His poor companion tries to cover up for him, dancing bizarrely and making peculiar, crouching, hand-arm shuffle movements. She circles the ‘maestro’ and picks his top up for him time after time, smiling ingratiatingly, trying to make it look as if it’s part of their act.
They urge each other on by making the shuffle gesture to each other. Whether it helps or hinders is debateable. It’s certainly very funny. I’ve only ever seen clowns before at the circus and here was something different; different class.
Clearly, the couple are very close. They make lots of time for hugs which bring forth oohs and ahhs from us in the audience, captivated by what we’re watching. One thing is clear. She is more enamoured of him than he of her. So, she goes and asks for a hug from two young gentlemen, sitting in the front row. Her partner responds by climbing over people several rows back and lying down across the laps of four gentlemen. Whatever next?
We have games. More fun with a banana, left with the top bitten off for safekeeping with a woman in the audience. Their wagging index fingers warn her off from taking a bite. It is also, it seems, a gesture of annoyance, like a rasping wasp. A trapeze descends but not far enough to jump up and catch. So, we need a ladder and, lo, here one is. The prop man has appeared at the back of the hall, carrying one. The clowns see him and race up over the armrests and in between the heads and try to take it back the same way they’d come up, over their heads. With my foot, I push my carrier bag under my seat, just in case they come my way. But they don’t and I am disappointed, momentarily. The two fools cause laughter and incredulity together before realising they ought sensibly to use the stairs. Back down, they forget about the ladder and clamber over each other. They roll. They land and fall. The music is back on and everyone is clapping and cheering.
When they remember, the stepladder is upside-down, V-shaped. It’s made of aluminium with hollow legs and she uses her finger to play with the rope, joining the two uprights, bringing them closer together. He tries to copy her only for it to snap on his head, poor man. He has been wacked in the face already. She tries the same and steps back beautifully, just in time. The look they give each other, and the Royalty, is wonderful.
I loved their blowing of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the step ladder, through the ends of the rungs. Then, they play more games. He carries her. She carries him, both urging the other on to bigger and better, offering encouragement with the hand-arm shuffle, whether it’s appreciated or not. I was aching with laughter by this time. Still am, when I recall.
What next for me? I have got to see more clowning. At the end, she comes back on in her overcoat, holding the red box. There is something so precious about her. Her partner joins her and …nothing…happens, till she opens the box again and tips it up to show it’s empty. I feel so sad. That’s the end of the show and they go off together, arm in arm. Only I’m waiting. I’m waiting. They can’t just walk off. They have to…and then they do. They pause in their stride and both look back towards the audience for what seems like forever but is only a second or two. Then, with their eyes facing front again, they’re gone.
The audience erupts and the pair receive four encores with bows all round. I am laughing so much, it hurts…in a really nice way, ooh… Everyone is on their feet, clapping to the music, shouting out ‘Bravo’ and they have the magnificent ovation they deserve; the one that only Royalty can give at the end.
And I say to myself, ‘When I die, can I come back as a clown, please…can I?’
More information about ibbacala can be found at http://www.ibaccalaclown.com/
And you can read more about Angela Halvorsen Bogo’s work on Fooling and Storytelling in the UK and around the globe at http://www.thefoolstory.com/