Comedy comes in many, many forms. From sitcoms to stand-up, there is always someone on the circuit trying something new to amuse the punters. However, using the traditional art forms of mime and clowning, Trygve Wakenshaw has created a comedy masterpiece that is intelligently structured and intertwined, yet so simple it burrows right to the childlike funny bone of every audience member present. Using only a handful of spoken words throughout the 75-minute performance, Wakenshaw creates a human zoetrope of characters traversing the borders between everyday life and the truly absurd.
There isn’t a narrative as such, with Wakenshaw speeding from scene to scene and battling with a follow-spot throughout the changes, but he uses reincorporation of characters to great effect. A certain arrogant gentleman roams the Nautilus kingdom abusing a series of unsuspecting animals, all played with such sincerity and humanity that the audience cannot help but be not only convinced, but be actively rooting for them to come out on top. The simple thrill the audience gets from the anticipation that Wakenshaw creates, and the subsequent complete satisfaction at each skit’s conclusion, provides us with a masterclass in physical comedy. The running sketch of a performance of ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ is one of the best pieces of comedy I have seen.
One of the truly mesmerising things about this performance is that Wakenshaw in himself is just a joy to watch. Obviously a master of his craft, after the opening sequence (a wonderfully dark retelling of Rapunzel), the audience laugh at just about anything he does, even his apologetic shrugs after certain characters as if apologising for how silly he is being, or at other times saying “well, what else was I going to be doing?”. These asides allow the audience to be in on the joke, creating another layer of comedy and cementing a relationship between the performer and the viewer.
In just over an hour, Nautilus attacks and hypnotises like the most anarchic cartoon, while never feeling patronising or purposefully childish. It is the joy of playfulness, forgotten by many comedians and modern performers, that here gives a temporary release from the real world and allows us to step into and fully envelope ourselves in the beauty of silliness and fun. The innocence and play in which Wakenshaw revels, delights and amuses in constant turns. This is clowning at its best.
Nautilus is playing at the Soho Theatre until 23 January. For tickets and more information see the Soho Theatre website.