Life With Crayons

Sat 2nd – Sat 9th August 2014

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 19:43 on 3rd Aug 2014

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I haven’t seen acting like this in a long time. In fact, the last time was probably in my Year 7 assembly. On that occasion too it was a mediocre script performed by fairly enthusiastic actors, and similarly then was the audience mostly made up of school staff.

‘Life with Crayons’ is the combination of two A Level Drama pieces brought to the Fringe by the Bilborough College Players. The first half is a look at the life journey of the criminally insane Adolf Wölfli, while the second is a sinister clown comedy piece. The two separate sections have apparently nothing to do with each other, which makes for a jarring transition half way through, but even individually they did not make a great deal of sense to me.

The first part of the play progresses from Scene 1 to Scene 3. Is this supposed to be humorous? Perhaps it is a comment on Wölfli’s psychological condition? Whatever the reason, I did not find it particularly clever, and it came across as pointless. The second part too is strange. Clowns dance - then a lighting change leads them to walk zombie-like around the stage for no apparent reason. The audience could do with some context in order to appreciate the ideas at the heart of the piece.

The absurdist humour did not particularly tickle me. What I did laugh at, however, was the absurdity of the fact that the girl singing ‘Frère Jacques’ had not learnt the words. She was not to know that one of her audience members would speak French, but most nurseries teach children to sing “sonnez les matines” before they teach the alphabet, and so “semma-lemma-tina” didn’t quite cut it.

The acting is generally stronger in the second half. The scenes are performed with purpose, but just not one that was apparent to me. However, in the first piece, Anesu Thondhlana and Charlie Jones do demonstrate some acting potential. They might do well if pushed by a stronger cast.

There are some interesting moments. I particularly enjoyed the Gladiators-style ‘Mortal combat’ scene with its slow motion action replay sequences. The puppetry dance is also a clever idea for the portrayal of Wölfli’s lack of control of his consciousness. Furthermore, the show’s tech is professional. The cues are sharp and the lighting successfully creates variance in the tone of the play.

While these students should be given a pat on the back for bringing their show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Life with Crayons’ is nothing more than a school play. The final bullet struck this Frenchie just when she thought that she was safe. “C’est fine”, the cast exclaims to close the show. Non. C’est fini.

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Alex Woolley

at 08:09 on 4th Aug 2014

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The surreal and the absurd are the hallmarks of Life with Crayons. A production of two halves, Bilborough College’s show first explores the life of soldier-cum-paedophile Adolf Wolfie; the second part comprises a series of scenes of clowning. There are many fine performances, but the show tends to hold back from an extremity of approach that would have rendered the surreal and the absurd suitably all-encompassing.

The first half of the production begins by assaulting the division between watchers and the watched. Charlie Jones, in a compère-style role, shouts to the cast, who crouch just before the front row, “You’re actors, not the audience.” From this point on, little is safe. The standard ordering of scenes, each of which is announced by Jones, takes a beating: scene three follows scene one; scene seven is simply absent. Linguistic expectations are challenged, too: Adolf Wolfie, despite his name, speaks in a perfectly English accent; his doctor, instead, displays a markedly German set of pronunciations. It is a testament to the overall strangeness of the atmosphere that in scene eight it almost seems reasonable Wolfie could be cured of his paedophilic desires through a musical number. It is a shame this climax to the first half was marred by some weak singing.

The series of clowning scenes that made up the second half of the show were at their best when the energy of the performances was high and the content was at its most absurd. The short sequence in which rhyming schoolboy French became the clowns’ vernacular, while one fished (poisson-ed, perhaps) another out of a river, was satisfyingly comic, absurd, and energetic. Less successful, in general, were the moments when cast members who were not in the limelight began to lose energy and crispness from their movements. Invariably this was not a problem when cast members took centre stage.

Life with Crayons will scarcely move anyone to tears, nor inspire a sense of ecstasy. It is not that kind of show. But it is jolly, and an enjoyable piece of absurd theatre. Of course, you might think differently if you get dragged on-stage to participate in the clowns’ picnic.

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