(Cremorne Theatre)


By The Schneedles (Wolfe Bowart and Bill Robinson)

Professional production

Their sober elders might be saying with Monty Python’s Colonel, “This is all getting extremely silly”, but the children who made up at least half the audience for The Schneedles’ performance at the Cremorne this week proved that absurdist physical theatre is alive and well and appreciated by everyone who doesn’t insist on intellect and rationality.

Wolfe Bowart and Bill Robinson, American performance artists who are part clown, part magician, part vaudeville star and part acrobat, were one of the hits of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and are now finishing their Australia-wide tour in Brisbane.

Ostensibly it’s all about luggage, and there is one unbelievable sequence with a suitcase that wants to steal the show, but it stands no chance against the antics of these two artists of the absurd, who act out the all-too-often unacknowledged truth that nothing matters very much, and that ultimately nothing matters at all, and that even shredding paper rats has its funny side.

I came to this show in cynical mood, but its cheerful lack of sophistication, when combined with the finely-honed physical talents of the two artists, got under my skin as much as it did everyone else’s, and by the time the two likely lads had proved that it’s almost impossible to land slices of bread into a pop-up toaster at 20 paces (don’t try this at home!), I was into the bread-throwing fight as willingly as the rest of the audience, none of whom gave a damn about the stage crew who had to clean up the mess.

That’s a breathless sentence, but blame it on the breathless pace of the hyped-up show. It’s the kind of show where the audience has two alternatives – to walk out in disgust, or stay and be overcome by the sheer inanity of it all. I thought I was going to be in the first category, but after 10 minutes I was kicking my heels as hard as the rest of them, overwhelmed by the sheer silliness mixed with pathos that characterised many of the acts.

One of the best of these was the rival courtship of the “pretty lady in the second row”, who was enticed with sunflowers in various forms, from crepe paper petals falling off a stick to a full sunflower suit from which Robinson (or was it Bowart?) kept pulling off various leaves and petals until his rival was reduced to hopping round the stage literally without a leg to stand on.

And when they finally persuaded the pretty lady to come up on stage, they didn’t ask her stupid questions, but wove her seamlessly and painlessly into the routine by plying her with tempting foodstuffs, until she ended up with a rubber turkey on her head, and somehow it succeeded in being very funny.

What sets this inspired clowning apart from most other acts of its kind is the skilful use of technology internal body noises evinced by rubbing a microphone over their heads and torsos (luckily never straying below the waist); the increasingly fraught use of a paper-shredder for music scripts, programs, money seemingly taken from the audience’s pocket, and even a passport, not to mention the aforesaid paper rat. BR>
This sad creature was concocted out of shredded paper, but died in the process, only to be revived with jump leads, then shredded again when its heart stopped, finally making a perfect resurrection.

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it,” as the Duchess says in Alice in Wonderland, but I defy anyone to find a moral in this show. It’s sheer unadulterated madness, and if you insist on a moral, perhaps it’s that every now and then we need to forget the sad rational world and delight again in getting extremely silly.

Directed by Bowart and Robison

Playing until Saturday 25 June 2005 (7pm start) 2005

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes including interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Tue 21st June 2005)