“I started a joke, which started the whole world crying.” Puddles, a giant black and white clown resembling something from a worn-out fairground show, opens with this line from ‘The Joke Was On Me’ (The Bee Gees). His voice is smooth, full of depth and he has a great range. But best of all is his expression of helplessness; the painted tear that runs down his face speaks volumes.
The whole of his act revolves around a saddened clown’s cabaret show, using songs and kid’s party rituals to highlight the futility of his life. Puddles brings audience members onto the stage, sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to them and presents them with party hats and balloons. These vestiges of our youth serve to emphasise Puddles’s current position (and potential predicament) as a six-foot something children’s entertainer. He never speaks, takes a few seconds too long to complete simple tasks and then inwardly revels at those awkward moments at which social convention forces us to laugh nervously. But the whole set is done so expertly that these laughs are genuine. Whether they are in support of his finely tuned set or mocking his career choice doesn’t matter to Puddles, they give him hope in an otherwise desolate existence.
Audience interaction is key here and there are a number of hapless people who are actively involved in the set. One sings ‘Yesterday’ (The Beatles) karaoke-style, whilst Puddles takes a rest and flicks through a magazine. No-one holds this against him – the poor, depressed performer should be able to put his feet up, no? Another is dressed up and serenaded in Spanish, presumably Puddles’s attempt to woo the lady. For all of these songs, Puddles does have one piece of ammo at his disposal; his voice copes with some difficult songs effortlessly, and exudes real pathos that is simultaneously touching and uplifting. When he remixes the song ‘Chandelier’ (Sia) to become even more depressing (which is apparently possible), the overall performance is quite stunning. And singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (Celine Dion) to a photo montage of Kevin Costner is just the icing on the cake.
Puddles spends an hour performing with despair and a real need to find anything in his life that is positive. But I leave the tent feeling uplifted, happy and energised – his role as a children’s entertainer has certainly worked on me.
Puddles Pity Party plays at Assembly George Square Gardens (venue 3) until August 31 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.