ClodHopper Theatre’s Clown-Hearted is an exploration of mental health and self-care in the modern world, devised and performed by Leonie Spilsbury and Owen Jenkins. A dialogue free piece of original and funny physical theatre, the show is both surprisingly deep and deceptively poignant.
The show opens with Spilsbury sitting on the stage in her pyjamas surrounded by cardboard boxes featuring labels of various emotions and mental health references. A ticking clock echoes and subtitles for the sound effect are provided, a feature which is present throughout the show.
Spilsbury pulls the hood of her pyjamas up in an attempt to create a sense of safety and looks through the various boxes. Her facial expression is excellent and the reality of the boxes is increased through creating a sense of weight and some boxes being more difficult to open than others.
A backstage stage technician, wearing a face mask, is on hand to help Spilsbury with her boxes and there is a lovely copycat moment of the tech mirroring Spilsbury’s movements, which serves as a nice reminder that it is not just the artists you see onstage who have been affected by the global pandemic.
The show has an unexpected dark turn which really brings to the fore the core message of the piece before Alexa chimes in with a rather glum weather report before reporting all of the latest clown related news, which becomes increasingly funny as it continues.
Jenkins then arrives in jaunty dungarees and a striped t-shirt which causes Spilsbury to sheepishly hide her “Depression” box beneath a blanket. Jenkins desperately asks the audience to help him and someone asks Alexa about depression who reels off the standard list of assessment questions before listing a number of activities which may help you when you are suffering with depressed mood.
Spilsbury and Jenkins then work their way through the list of self-care options with often hilarious results. Both have excellent mime skills and facial expression, and regular audience participation (a small group wearing face masks and regularly using hand sanitiser) add a unique spin to this wonderful example of physical theatre.
Wry references to the role of Alexa in our lives and general attitudes towards speaking to and being around people with depression add depth to the piece. Jenkins’ recreation of classic paintings is a particular highlight in the show and both performers deserve praise for their synchronisation and the strength of their performing relationship.
This unique and thought-provoking piece of theatre will make you laugh and contemplate the effects of mental health on all of us as individuals and society as a whole. Very funny, it may also make you shed a tear or two due to the strength of its underlying message. This is a wonderful reminder to all of us that it is OK not to be OK.
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 22nd October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★