Let's be honest here: I've never particularly liked clowns. We're not talking coulrophobia; I've never been scared of clowns, or ever found them creepy. I’ve just never found them particularly funny; and, from my limited experience of circus shows, their often total reliance on dull slapstick and victimising knock-about has always left me cold. All of which now seems beside the point, because – shock horror – I genuinely enjoyed Kombini, by Montreal-based Les Foutoukours.
A complimentary combination of experience and energy and, above all, intelligence and respect for their craft.
Perhaps it's because there's a genuine sense of old-school clowning here. There are characters; there's an emotional story, of sorts, supporting the physical comedy, the attempted balloon animals, the prodigious amounts of popcorn thrown about the place. In Rémi Jacques and Jean-Félix Bélanger there's a complimentary combination of experience and energy and, above all, intelligence and respect for their craft that would appear (at least for me) to make all the difference. There's a real sense of belief in what they're doing; these aren't simply men dressing up and mucking around. They're actors playing specific, deliberately devised roles.
The show's scenario is simple enough, although technically (at least on the day of the review) one that starts when the pair join us while we're still queuing up to get into the venue. Kombini, once they realise they shouldn't just be sitting among the audience eating popcorn, is the story of two clowns, both hoping to escape the monotony of their everyday lives and, like any "resting" actor, waiting for the phone call from an agent or director that will change their lives forever. Alas, the only offer they receive is for a child's birthday party—cue malformed balloon animals.
Jacques and Bélanger give us a robust mix of traditional circus skills – juggling, and superbly choreographed acrobatics – with a studied, Russian air, which holds the attention and delights in equal measure. Though ably supported by Félicie Wingerter’s bright, practical costumes, Francis Hamel’s unfussy lighting design and Alexandre Paradis’s emotive original score, it's the whole show that most impresses, touching with some real heart on the importance of love, friendship and the true meaning of success.