“No clowns were funny. That was the whole purpose of a clown. People laughed at clowns, but only out of nervousness. The point of clowns was that, after watching them, anything else that happened seemed enjoyable.” (Terry Pratchett). Richard Canal’s Cry, Blueberry is a journey into the man behind the mask of vaudeville clown, Blueberry, from 1920s Broadway in America. As a one-man show, Canal takes his audience back in time to explore the relationship between the performer and their lives away from the stage, reminding his audience of just how much of a mask is required to deliver the expectations put on a clown.
As the audience were finding their way to their seats, Blueberry is already on stage in full clown costume and make up – playing with various trinkets and organising a large tree which (as we later found out was made by Canal’s mother) is covered in glass bottles. Observing Blueberry go about his routine, I was reminded of Edward Scissorhands; a social outcast whose mannerisms appeared peculiar but were merely an attempt to replicate the norm to try and fit in. The clown, much like Scissorhands, is an outsider who is utilised for entertainment. This characteristic nature crafted for Blueberry asks the audience to sympathise with him, as well as to be intrigued by him from the outset as, after all, this is not your usual vaudeville clowning performance. This decision from Canal worked strongly in his favour and what was to follow from his character was as beautiful as it was harrowing.
Canal himself admitted it was a ‘risk’ to see his performance. Indeed, running at an hour and a half, it was a risk from Canal to ask his audience to be engaged and committed to the entire show. Bold, brave and compelling, Cry, Blueberry was captivating from the outset and managed to just about sustain its energy until the end. That said, surely the piece would have benefitted from cutting down its length – thus allowing for more focus on certain aspects of the story, rather than attempting to present a plethora of ideas over a longer period of time. I certainly do admire Canal for what he has attempted, but the production will be stronger when Blueberry does not require his audience to do so much for over 90 minutes.
What floundered in the narrative was resurrected by Canal’s performance. A clearly talented performer who was dynamic, charming and moving in his transition from cheery clown to a defeated artist. It was this performance that maintained the audience’s connection with the play, as the narrative had some frustrating moments that washed over seemingly important moments and examined less integral sections as a result. His letter from Annabel was truly heartbreaking and it would have been far more fascinating to hear this aspect of Blueberry’s past. The revelation of the flashback scenes, resulting in a brutal fatality, was also captivating but was distracted by an enormous tree on stage that seemed unnecessary and took away from what Blueberry was actually expressing more than anything – guilt and shame.
A huge amount of credit must go to Canal for devising such a moving and valiant piece of theatre. The character of Blueberry was well developed, but more work is needed to make the piece concise and to deliver a more attentive reflection of Canal’s view on society and where the ‘clown’ fits in.
Review by James Evans
It is November 16th, 1932. The Depression is at its greatest, and vaudeville – the roaring heartbeat of the ’20s
– has ceased to beat. Isaac Solomon Loew, a Jewish Mississippian, performs on Broadway as Blueberry, a
happy-go-lucky Pierrot. Wrestling with guilts of times bygone, he frequently flees from his pain not only into
performance, but also into sex. His increasingly addictive escapes have finally lost him his wife, at the same
times as he loses his employment. He enters his dressing-room for the last time; and as he pours his heart out
to the audience, shedding his painted mask, he wrestles with his memories, mistakes and misdeeds – either to
their conclusion, or his own.
Writer and Performer Richard Canal
Director George Goodell
Performance Dates May 11th 2018 – May 13th 2018. 7.45pm
Running Time 90 mins
The Warren, St Peters Church North, York Pl, Brighton BN1 4GU