Performed by Thom Monkton. Directed by Sanna Silvennoinen. Lightingg design Juho Rahijarvi. Sound design Tuomas Norvio and Atte Kantonen. Costume design Kati Mantere. Circo Aero. AC Arts. Adelaide Festival. March 9 – 14. 2020
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The man behind me can’t stop guffawing at Thom Monckton’s clownish antics. The high squeals of delighted children ring through the audience at every silly slapstick Pratt fall. Lanky and lean with wispy uncontrolled hair, Monckton in striped shirt and ankle length trousers is every inch the engaging mime, the fumbling, bumbling artist, grasping for inspiration in his paint bespattered atelier. As supple as a rubber hose and as flexible as plasticine, Le Coq-trained Monckton sets up a series of sight gags as he prepares to paint. In an hour of muddlement, the artist staples his sock to the canvas on the frame., slips and slides snakelike on his paint splattered floor, catches drops from the ceiling onto his tongue, balances on the red table and builds suspense as he balances precariously on a ladder or hangs from the shelf as he reaches for his paint brushes, only to come to grief to the amusement of his audience.
Physical theatre can be a risky business prone to injury or mistakes. The step ladder teeters and falls towards the table where Monckton skilfully lands only to watch as a glass bottle for his still life portrait routine crashes to the hard floor. The advantage of a circus act is that a five=minute break to clean up the glass and wipe the floor does nothing to disturb the narrative, and the audience applauds as Monckton resumes his cleverly contrived physical gags.
He fortunately spies a member of the audience, similarly dressed in a striped top and invites her to be his life model and complete a Margritte blank face. Audience participation is always a testy business, but this time Monckton has struck it lucky, not only finding a willing participant but a person with a deft artist’s touch. With clever sleight of hand Monckton sets up his portrait exhibition and with a plastic glass of wine in his hand sits as critic of his art.
The Artist is an ideal treat for the very young who delight in the danger and surprise of slapstick and the young at heart who appreciate the quirky humour and skill of the consummate clown. One hour is a good length for Monckton’s story of the hapless artist to unfold. And, as the song goes, Be a clown. Be a clown. Everyone loves a clown. And everyone at The Artist did.