Fringe Comedy Reviews: Send in the Clowns

Dan Lees, Marny Godden, Mawaan Rizwan and Trygve Wakenshaw: we take a look at some of the clowns performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Feature by John Stansfield and Ben Venables | 19 Aug 2015

In Season 6 of The Simpsons Homer is admitted to Krusty’s clown college, at which he is trained in the art of taking a pie to the face, squirting water from a flower and riding a tiny bike. While it's one of the greatest episodes of one of the greatest shows of all time, it did nothing good for the art of clowning. In 2012 Phil Bergers (as Doctor Brown) won the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award for his show Befrdfgth, finally giving more credence to the art of making people laugh with the minimum amounts of words, leaving the physicality to do the work. Since then, mentioning you’ve trained with acclaimed clown tutor Philippe Gaulier has been met with a doff of the cap rather than a kick up the backside.

Dan Lees is a long time subscriber to the clowning philosophy and his latest show Brainchild [★★★☆☆] is a steady stream of physical comedy with a brief interlude, while a horse that looks like a fish enters and does a few horrendous fish puns (herring-dous? No? Sorry). It is madcap and fast-paced – once the audience are on board and providing most of the words, Lees excels, making the crowd work as hard as himself for the laughs. This is a double edged sword and with a lacklustre gathering he can find it tough to get through, but Lees is a persistent sort and gathers laughs from the strangest of places. Even a packet of Mini Cheddars.

Continuing the theme of 'clowns eating' is Mawaan Rizwan, whose show FLUU [★★☆☆☆] kicks off with the YouTube star attempting to catch popcorn in his mouth while wearing clothes pegs on the tips of his fingers. If this has put you off then you might want to swerve this one as it just gets slightly more abstract from here. Rizwan’s history as a YouTube performer shows as his skits and sketches sit uneasily next to each other, a loose collection of ideas presented inside a muumuu, although his crowd work is good and he deals excellently with a heckler. Ending on a high with a short play about ‘Lamp Boy’, he never loses his sense of mischief and as a midnight show this is an interesting way to cap the night. [John Stansfield]

The Grandees' co-founder Marny Godden houses both clowning and absurdism in her solo performance; this often wrongfoots critics pretending they can be anything other than subjective. Indeed, apparently she was once accused of leading some sort of religious cult in a comedy review – if this is the case, we'd be happy to sign up. Flap 'Em on the Gate [★★★☆☆] is an impressive show which only suffers from a slightly uneven length of sequences from certain characters that Godden portrays. A lady obsessed with all things Hoover is a highlight, with wordplay continually being pulled out the bag, and another character's intonation and look of seriousness while singing Poo Detective can't be forgotten. Godden is an impressive dancer and for the most part Flap 'em on the Gate is a mesmerising and atmospheric show. We very much look forward to seeing Godden develop her solo material further.

Trygve Wakenshaw must be about a foot taller than Godden, and while her clowning often (expertly) projects a much larger physical presence, Wakenshaw is crouched down and contorting himself into, say, a chicken. As little plot-lines start and bleed into different scenes later in this show it becomes apparent how cleverly Nautilus [★★★★☆] has been constructed, and the physical performance is enough to convert anybody to the art of clowning. On one of the rare occasions Wakenshaw uses his voice, it is to send up the repetition of a mundane job, and his vocals become as much a part of the body language as they are verbal. Sometimes, though, it's simply the stillness and subtlety of his facial expression – during a mime of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – that marks Wakenshaw out as a master of his art. [Ben Venables]

Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus, Pleasance Courtyard, until 30 Aug (various dates), 10pm, £9-12

Marny Godden, Flap 'Em on the Gate, Underbelly Cowgate, until 30 Aug, 5.20pm, £6-10

Dan Lees: Brainchild, Underbelly Med Quad, until 31 Aug, 7pm, £8-10

Mawaan Rizwan: FLUU, Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug, 12.10am, free