To celebrate forty years of musical theatre, the new Ross Musical Society took on the task of delivering Peter Kennedy’s difficult show CLOWN, with a founding member, Jack Stacey, in the ensemble, at St. Michael’s Theatre. Set in the London if 1891, it tells the unrelenting and poignant story of Clown who longs to be a headliner but nobody takes him seriously. He adores Jennifer but she loves philandering leading-man, Philip Coates, who abandons her with a young daughter to run off with goodtime barmaid Elsie.
Clown can’t see beyond his self-pity but marries Sally to give Jennifer’s daughter Laura, a stable family life with a travelling group. For early on you know it’s all going to end in grief and the philanderer returns and before the curtain closes, there is pain, hurt, disappointment, foolishness, abortion and three dead bodies. Not a dry eye as the story cranks up to a powerful dramatic ending just the better side of melodrama and overacting.
At times it was like a play with songs and choreographer Anne-Marie Stafford created a lot of inventive routines for the few chorus numbers. An opening Clown Ballet needed to be more stylised as the clown seemed to be moping rather than miming. Sometimes he did mope with a mop and the director should have given him more work to do, but hang on a mo – the Director (Bill Stafford) played Clown as well. His performance was powerful and memorable but too often other characters fell into overacting and shouting.
A big chorus number, opening act two, was too static and it should have exploded into action. The sound system was dodgy on opening night, especially when two scenes were vocally overlaid with Elsie singing Come Away and Jennifer singing Alone In Love.
Lighting was shaky and what looked like a theatre or stage flicker effect became a distraction and it was obvious there were circuit and dimmer problems, possibly caused by too many lamps in use on dimmers.
Now before this review settles into a gloomy putdown, this was a show with a lot going for it. Costumes from Nomac were good and the young chorus worked very hard to give life to a poignant subject. Sean O’Brien (Arthur) and Catriona Maher (Kitty) provided fine song and dance routines. Peter O’Connor, as Bill, added vigour to the show and Nancy Rochford-Flynn was excellent as the often ignored, Sally. She had wonderful impact in Waiting Here For You, She Needs You Now and perfect Words (with Clown in duet). Her reprise of When I Close My Eyes, was beautiful.
Martina Kavanagh was a suitable Jennifer and Owen Brady was a striking actor/singer as Philip Coates, the baddie. Zoe Cohen was a strident Elsie but it is a difficult part to pin down in a few brief scenes and she kept the character out of melodrama. Joan Deegan was wonderful as Mrs. Coleridge and Donal O’Brien was splendid as Mr. Coleridge, the impresario.
Caoimhe Kennedy Ryan was a beautiful Laura and Sean Duffy, a promising Young Clown. Bill Stafford gave a memorable performance as Clown despite an ill-advised choice in hats and style of make-up. His rendition of Seat In The Balcony was excellent and his was a powerful acting performance. Patricia Cuddihy on violin as wonderful for Sally’s Waiting Here For You.