Sunday, 31 July 2016

Chapter 154: Sean Kempton and Stuff

Photo credit: Arturo Franceschi 

Funny, and beautiful, the random conversations that come up. Take yesterday, with the supermarket delivery man. I'd never met him before, but it was a lazy summer evening and, with time on our hands, we got chatting. Turns he happens to share a birthday with my son, and has kids of his own. We ended up talking about life and love, and his youngest, born with in a hair's breadth of his birthday too. 

"He's not my child, you understand, but I love him as if he were, and when my pension came in I got him a Junior Gunners season ticket to the Reds. We've gone to every single match together ever since."

What a Dad. My own used to tell me regularly to go back to the orphanage where I belonged. To be fair, this was normally when I'd go in and jump on their bed first thing in the morning... Dad is a regular joker, born on April's Fool, so I was totally at home this year spending Father's Day this year watching another clown in action - Sean Kempton in his one man show Stuff. This is a show that explores love, drawing on experience of all sorts, including that of Sean's as a father himself. The show was part of the London Clown Festival (click here), the first such festival in the UK and "barely a red nose in sight". This was a festival celebrating contemporary clowning - that is to say unconventional physical comedy. (If you're looking for a convention, check out the Clowns Annual Church Service in honour of Joseph Grimaldi every February - click here). 

Sean Kempton is a natural clown. A jester who can get away with serving up home-truths by virtue of being immensely likeable and knowing his audience. Originally an actor, Sean moved into the world of circus when he was selected to train up as one of the acrobats for the Millennium Dome extravaganza, jumping off pillars 150 feet in the air. So he knows about taking the plunge as he takes his new show to the Edinburgh Fringe this month. Sean was one of the key members of the Generating Company, a touring circus company that puts on large-scale events around the world and which was at the forefront of the UK circus scene moving into the 21st Century. Since then he has been lead clown for a number of years in Cirque de Soleil shows like Kooza, Quidam and Varekei, and was on stage in Vegas with epic life-aquatic Dragone show "Le Rêve". In short, he's a bit of a legend.

Stuff is a show on a much more intimate scale than any Cirque production. It is a responsive, dynamic piece in which Sean uses the audience to weave together a tapestry of connections, exploring what binds us together, while in one brutal moment he takes the stage alone to demonstrate what happens to a body when a heart is ripped apart. 

The opening track summed up the vibe of the show for me: Amélie accordion crossed with Marc Almond-style lyricism conjured up love in all its kookiness, vulnerability and wonder. The rest of the show used a fabulously eclectic soundtrack that frames each scene, and we were taken on an emotional journey from the birth of love in a heartbeat to its development, and a look at the science of it all. Sean is a brilliant physical comedian. Without needing to say a word, he communicated all the awkwardness and hilarity of love, embracing those slapstick moments of failure and rejection when you slam again, and again, into an unresponsive, impervious brick wall, as well as the soaring points when you feel at one with the universe.

Sean explored how love makes you feel, and what it represents, through the use of three verbatim testimonies from his daughter aged 6, a young woman in her 20s, and an octogenarian lady. They are each a heart-warming, frank and honest response to gentle, respectful prompts. The audience gets similar treatment. Even a closest exhibitionist such as myself shudders at the words "audience participation". Often on the cabaret and fringe circuit that can be brutal. Not here. Here, the name of the game is connection, not humiliation. Ultimately the only risk is carried by Sean, as inviting an audience member into the game exposed him to the possibility of rejection. But as with love, when you take that leap, it can lead to the most beautiful of moments and there was a lot of fun in the play that brought the audience together.
What is love? Love is... Stuff.

Stuff is at the Assembly George Square, Omnitorium, 4-29 August 2016 (not 15th). 4.30pm. Running time: 1 hour.
Word to the wise: you'd do well to sit in the front row and make plenty of eye contact. Trust me...

Tickets: (click here)

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