A beautifully ragged caravan hung with various bits and bobs sits in a corner of the stage. A young clown in high pants and floppy hat (Alexandre Casali), sits on the ground eating a banana and throwing the skins around. He opens his fly and rummages around, pulling out another banana. Then, an older clown (Lucio Tranchesi) glides onstage on roller skates, waving to an adoring crowd that we can only hear, not see. So begins
An enjoyable piece of theatre, with many lovely individual moments of physical exuberance.
My Uncle’s Shoes charts the relationship between an older clown and his young disciple. The disciple is taught the ways of clowning by his mentor, from how to tie an oversized shoe to walking on stilts and professionally performing a mirror mime sequence. Casali and Tranchesi are a classic clowning duo: Casali is bigger, rounder, cuddly and a little bit slow; Tranchesi is small, wiry and prone to fits of a violent temper when his disciple cannot keep up. As the relationship develops, there is a subtle testing and shifting of status, until the two become equals. Casali’s constant bumbling attempts to prove himself during this journey provide much of the comedy.
That said, this is a much subtler and gentler show than one might expect from something described as ‘clown.’ It is less about pratfalls and more about the relationship of teacher and student and how this changes over time. We see the daily rituals of these two: putting on make-up, taking off make-up, drumming up an audience, getting ready for a show, eating and relaxing afterwards and so on. My Uncle’s Shoes seems interested in the classic idea of the clown: a paradox of the funny fool who creates laughter and the tragic loner, unloved and abandoned by all. It eventually builds to a dark climax. Original music by Jarbas Bittencourt, when used, is beautiful and effective, making one wish for more.
The show moves fairly slowly and takes a long while to get into its narrative. The two clowns spend much of the time feeling like broad brushstrokes, rather than fully-formed characters, keeping them distant from the audience and detracting from the poignant ending. Overall, however, this is an enjoyable piece of theatre, with many lovely individual moments of physical exuberance.