• Opera/Ballet
  • By Arnold Schoenberg (first half) and Leo Geyer (second half)
  • Director: Joel Fisher
  • Choreographer: Alfie Taylor Gaunt
  • Cast includes: Emma Stannard, Matt Petty and Leo Geyer
  • Arcola Theatre, London
  • 4th – 8th August 2015
  • Review by S. A. McCracken
  • 5 August 2015
The Clown of Clowns
1.0Reviewer's Rating

As part of their annual Grimeborn Opera Festival, the Arcola debuts what is undoubtedly the worst performance I have ever seen.

You know what it’s like when you’re trying to sleep and you can hear a single mosquito buzzing right by your ear? Imagine that, only at megaphone volume, and you have an idea of how enjoyable the music is. The performers murder Schoenberg’s experimental 1912 composition with a piano that sounds like it’s been salvaged from a skip, a soprano who can’t act and costumes which remind me of my childhood fancy-dress box.

There must be a prize going for overacting. How else can you explain the bulging eyes of every cast member – is this supposed to indicate some kind of extreme emotion? Why else would someone look like they were trying to impersonate a frog being stepped on? For an hour.

The first half of the performance follows the character of Pierrot, interpreted by dancers who do their best with a lazy choreography which screams unresolved teenaged angst through contemporary dance clichés. Pierrot pursues Columbine and fights her jealous boyfriend whilst rubbing white paint on his face. In the background, our amphibian soprano throws petals at him. Why.

Unfortunately, once the second half begins, you almost miss the tuneless German warbling and Pierrot’s face paint addiction. Here it gets so weird that you wonder if it was made up by children high on Slush Puppies.

Firstly, the only thing it has in common with the first half is irritating music – there is no continuity. Secondly…where to begin? The bear in pyjama trousers and a gimp mask? The woman dressed in her grandmother’s curtains pretending to be a snake? The ‘palm reader’ who grabs the hand of an unwilling audience member? Or the woman dressed as a child who combs her mother’s beard whilst having what appears to be a nervous breakdown? She then proceeds to feed her doll slices of cake with candles on them that look (unintentionally, I suspect) likes sex toys.

Based on the programme it seems the concept of the show is a sort of experimental jazz-cabaret extravaganza. Unfortunately the result is laughably bad. I would not wish this catastrophe of a performance on anyone.

About The Author

Profile photo of S.A. McCracken
Facilitator & Reviewer (Scotland)

Saskia McCracken studies Modernist Literature at the University of Glasgow. She is passionate about theatre, and her interests range from Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Marsha Norman to fringe projects and new productions by emerging writers. She has published several short stories and is currently writing her dissertation on Virginia Woolf's feminist animal politics.


  1. Tim Maby

    I am afraid that Saskia missed the point of Clown of Clowns totally. Pierrot is far more interesting as an interaction between musicians, singer and dancers than the normal grim and severe presentation. Sideshows is supposed to be on a farcical level, using the same 30s alienation effect as Brecht and Weill.

    • Saskia

      ‘Supposed’ being the operative word here, Tim. I appreciate the merging of multiple art forms as a method of revising a performance. However the alleged concept was so poorly executed that the ‘point’ was not so much missed as it was destroyed by its very delivery.



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