Two Clowns, One Cup

Grace Gallagher and Crystal Quinney Barella
Ugly Bucket Theatre
HOME, Manchester
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Few things have as much potential for embarrassment or humour as sex. Grace Gallagher and Crystal Quinney Barella, who comprise Ugly Bucket Theatre, tackle this situation with gleeful abandon in the riotous Two Clowns, One Cup.

Unlike most comedy partnerships, Gallagher and Barella are equals—neither being the funny or the straight performer and both throwing themselves into the highly demanding physical comedy routines. Director Rachael Smart creates an atmosphere close to anarchy; there is always the sense that one of the clowns is going to jump into the audience. One assumes Smart also sequences Gallagher’s remarkable music and sound designs without which the show would not work half as well.

Two Clowns, One Cup is such a tightly choreographed show that the element of audience participation one might expect in a comedy gig is actually low. The one patron invited onstage turns out to be a real trooper and makes a great contribution to the show. It is so carefully constructed, the one gag that does not work involves an apparent equipment failure, which, in such a well-prepared show, would never happen.

The show is relentlessly funny but the gags often conceal serious points. A custard pie in the face is a cruel but accurate way of illustrating the callous insensitivity some men show towards their sexual partners. Jaffa Cakes are handed out as they are free of Value Added Tax and must, therefore, be of vital medical importance unlike, say, sexual hygiene products like Tampax. Obviously, boys and girls are educated separately about sex—how else are they going to learn not to communicate with each other on the subject?

The show takes sexual history from giggling schoolchildren smirking their way through sex education classes, the trauma of puberty, first sexual experiences and relationship problems. Recordings of women describing their real-life experiences provide a bracing background. The content is graphic including replicating ‘the money shot’ from porn films. Yet there is a peculiar sense of innocence—a woman accidentally discovering the pleasures of masturbation while playing video games.

Two Clowns, One Cup is highly energetic; many of the routines involve mimes that are so rapid and forceful as to resemble dance—the blasting techno music adds to the impression. It is highly varied; there are no straightforward punchlines and some routines involve dialogue while others are wordless. A particularly fine example of the latter is the opening routine involving the duo trying to resist the temptation to press the button that will officially start the show. It establishes Gallagher and Barella as the equivalent of naughty children; daring to go that bit too far for the sake of a good joke. The exaggerated facial reactions of the duo are a vital part of the show’s success—they react as if watching a horror movie while playing teenagers learning exactly what is involved in sex.

Two Clowns, One Cup is a triumph—just as funny as sex and you don’t have to make awkward conversation afterwards.

(Ugly Bucket Theatre aise staging Two Clowns, One Cup and Bost-Uni Blues at HOME as part of the PUSH Festival from 29 January to 1 February 2020.)

Reviewer: David Cunningham