Once Upon A Western

My girlfriend has a fear of clowns. She says it stems from a traumatic experience when she was younger and watched Stephen King’s It. So when I told her I had got us both tickets to see the clown-based theatre company Le Navet Bete at Plymouth’s Barbican theatre, she had her reservations. Le Navet Bete are not clowns in a stereotypical sense, however; there is no white make-up or bad magic tricks here, merely four fantastic performers blending a childlike enthusiasm and energy along with some clever physical comedy to create one of the most hilarious live shows I have seen.

Once Upon A Western is, unsurprisingly, a western. It’s set in the town of Kidneystone and hosts an array of hysterical and varied characters including Mayor Naise, newly appointed Sherriff Rudy and Billy Poop-in-the-Well. There must have been 20-30 different characters running all around the stage at various times, all expertly played by the cast of only four. This of course leads to each of the performers chopping and changing costumes (and accents) extremely fast and frequently, and at times this caused the show to become a bit haphazard. This completely worked in the context of the show, though, only adding to its hectic and crazed energy that carried the clowns through the two hour runtime.

An outstanding opening and introductory sequence started things on a high and the performer’s energy rarely let up throughout. There were some lovely changes of pace however, such as Sherriff Rudy’s song in the first half which was a definite highlight for me. The beginning of the second half of the show perhaps lacked a bit of life as the audience came back from the interval, however the performers soon remedied that by choosing four lucky (or unlucky!) audience members to come up on the stage and dance with them. On that note, the way the performers reacted to the live audience was a definite high point for me. They were always aware that this was a live theatre piece, and were always trying to interact and converse with the audience whilst telling their story. This created a show that was always changing as the performers improvised around and changed things.

My girlfriend is still afraid of clowns, but we agreed that it’s a disservice to compare Le Navet Bete with a stereotypical circus performer. It transcends that definition and create outstanding physical theatre full of comedy and fun, revelling in its live-ness and providing an amazing experience suitable for both kids and their parents.

A Christmas Carol by Le Navet Bete will be playing at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth from 7-24 December. Tickets and information can be found on the Barbican Theatre website.

This review was written by Connor Clarke, a member of the Barbican Theatre’s Arts Force, in a partnership with A Younger Theatre.