Review: Clown-hearted, VAULT Festival

The stage is littered with cardboard boxes, each labelled with a different realm of struggle, ‘Shame’, ‘Hope’, ‘Fear’. A sad clown absent of any make-up, sits on a box herself, very cute in a sky-blue cloud onesie with pom-poms dangling off the hood. This is a light-hearted show about depression. Amongst the many performances addressing the mental health crisis at the Vault Festival this year, Clown-hearted stands out through its persistent positivity. Upbeat discussions around such disorders are often regarded as paradoxical. This performance works to subvert one’s preconceived notions that shows depicting mental illness cannot be executed in a loving and cheerful manner.

Our two clowns are accompanied on our journey through mindfulness with Siri and Alexa, the only speaking characters within this performance. Text-To-Speech robots are quick to alienate the audience from the emotional overtones of their speech, which seemed a slightly too obvious choice. Regardless, this is effective in inciting moments of humour as the clowns embark on a self-care mission. Audience interaction is joyful as each task completed by an audience member is accompanied with a round of applause and a smile from the clowns. 

This show involves heavy reliance on props, and thus prop comedy, which is arguably unnecessary as the presence of these two characters is brilliant in itself. Working silently presents its own challenges in the theatrical sphere, however when executed effectively, the actor’s physicality radiates through their character and the audience are captivated by their every movement. Leonie Spilsbury and Owen Jenkins are an utterly adorable duo. Each repetitive gag or slapstick moment lands with charm. The silent clowns work intelligently to tell the story of how friendship is one of the most effective means of combating low mood.

The educational aspects of Clown-hearted are frequently on the nose in their approach. This means that much of the information is focused, albeit basic. The self-help guidelines of combatting depression seem to revolve around milder forms of the illness rather than the extremities which may require more elaborate treatment and medication. This presents the more general issue of exploring forms of mental illness in their severity. Perhaps Clown Hearted is meant to address the lighter side, in which case it is done fluidly.

While the music is relatively predictable, this show is heart-warming and endlessly funny. At one point the entire audience are offered bourbon biscuits as a gentle signifier of solidarity. This is a show which will give you some neat self-help pointers and leave you feeling warm.

Clown-hearted played the VAULT Festival until 23 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.