As part of Brighton Fringe, Stumble Trip Theatre have taken over a tent by the sea and stuffed it with an hour of excellently timed, infectiously funny, joyous clowning. Battling against the outside noise that leaks into the venue Frills and Spills – both the title and the eponymous characters of performers Grace Church (as Frills) and Chloe Young (as Spills) – succeed in distracting the audience from the mundanity of our humdrum lives. They lead us expertly through an hour of games, songs and strangely hypnotic dance routines so that by the end most of the audience are onstage dancing with them.
The show is described by the company as an “absurdist cabaret about privilege”. Church expresses perfectly the naivety of the extremely privileged Frills, of Frivelton house. Her high-pitched voice and permanently wide-eyed expression captures the unaware and unconcerned nature of Frills. Draped in a princess-like costume (beautifully made by Mady Berry) she is wonderfully oblivious to the world around her. Her character has a childlike quality, unaware of how hard things might be for anyone but herself. She wallows in the seemingly endless amount of time she has to consider her feelings and indulges her tempestuous emotions through an array of different types of therapy that are, of course, readily available to her (aquarium therapy is an absurd highlight). One unfortunate audience member has to give up his pint to satiate one bout of sadness; drinking therapy is the excuse for this particular solution.
Young plays Spills, who is dressed in a maid’s costume (again designed by Berry, with some wonderfully comic secrets hidden within) with her hair spiked into the air like a torpedo. Young is brilliant as the pandering Spills, with an elastic face and surprisingly agile movement she invites the audience to look on at the frustratingly blissful life of Frills. Spills works knowingly with the audience, almost winking with them at the ridiculousness of the melodramatic woman that she seems to serve. I felt like I had been invited into the bedroom of a particularly spoilt Princess, whom Spills was attempting to keep entertained by offering her ample opportunity to entertain her trapped onlookers. Of course in reality these two excellent clowns made me feel anything but trapped in their presence, it was wonderful to be involved in their mad world, if only for an hour.
Both are amazing performers, having met at the Lecoq School in Paris they have clearly developed a fantastic stage presence together, in sync without ever having to check. Their already impeccable timing is often supported by pieces of music (composed by James Oldham) that are similarly well timed to squeeze all the laughter out of their bizarre, but strangely entrancing, dances.
An hour of clowning can be difficult to sustain and there are some times in the performance where the energy begins to lull and some games that are not quite as funny as the rest. However, these moments rarely last and this is down to the confident and creative personalities of the two clowns onstage, whose playfulness is infectious. Indeed it is a moment where the pair cannot contain their own laughter at each other’s comedy that I find myself laughing most.
Frills & Spills is a fast-paced concoction of playful clowning, bizarre dance and hilarious audience participation, brilliantly performed by Church and Watson. Although their run in Brighton has now ended, I do hope this isn’t the last time Frills & Spills comes to play with its entranced audiences.
Thrills and Spills played the Brighton Spiegeltent: Bosco as part of the Brighton Fringe until 5 May. For more information see the Brighton Spiegeltent website.