Review by Sam Waite
Audience interaction and breaking the fourth wall can feel out of place when used as part of a story – speaking directly to the people you’re performing for can shatter the illusion you’ve carefully created. Thankfully, the comedy trio Bad Clowns are well-practised with these techniques and made sure that their audiences were involved and engaged before the show even began.
Directed into a small bar just outside of the performance space itself, the audience were greeted by Sam and Christian, two alien hunting special agents, who directed their “suspects” into the interrogation room. An alien named Pax has taken control of one of these suspects, and their goal for the next hour is to work out who the host is and exterminate them.
As the duo from BAD – the Bureau for Alien Defences – Sam Wallis and Christian Dart are a classic comedy pairing, Dart the logical, straight-laced foil to Wallis’ more emotionally-driven and reckless agent. They have an ease with speaking to the audience and forming a connection with them, despite certain jokes occasionally being dragged out for too long. In short time, they are joined by Special Agent J1, played by third member John Bond – at first only a too-serious leader to the bumbling duo, a mishap with a memory-wiper gives him ample opportunities for comedy.
Essentially a series of comedy skits moulded into an hour-long narrative, the plot is surprisingly good – not only funny, but towards the end genuinely moving. You do feel for these characters, even as some of the running gags become slightly groan-inducing. In particular, Christian’s repeated references to “a rapport” with the audience felt more forced as the show went on, and a running joke about Sam’s fascination with a particular piece of alien pornography may have had a stronger punchline if it was referenced less often to allow a surprise at its re-appearance.
Sam, John, and Christian have a clear knack for creating comedic scenarios with genuine stakes, but this particular piece could use some fine-tuning to bring less-familiar dynamics to the jokes, relying less on the kind of stock characters we’ve seen time and time again. Yes, these criticisms are reflected in the work itself – they often comment on themselves as having a singular character trait – but this acknowledgement doesn’t erase the issue.
Despite being off-stage, special credit must go to technician and artist (designing the posters as well as handling lighting, sound, and video) Johanna Dart. At one point, she is called on to briefly act, arguing with the agents over her too-liberal use of a particular effect, and got an equal round of applause at the curtain call for her trouble. Her work here helps to bring some level of reality to the story being told and allows for some of the funnier reactions from the trio of performers.
Though it may be in need of some fine-tuning, Bad Clowns: Invasion is still a great showcase for the comedic gifts of Bad Clowns, and certainly encourages future engagement with their live shows and online presence. While only running for two performances, it was clear from the reactions at the end of their first show that they had won over some new fans and would be a welcome presence with whatever delights they offer next.
VAULT Festival continues throughout March. See Vaultfestival.com for all of the listings
Follow https://twitter.com/Badclownscomedy to find out about their upcoming projects.