'Coulrophobia' - Pickled Image
A weird and inventive riot of a show, ‘Coulrophobia’ (meaning ‘fear of clowns’) is the latest offering from Bristol-based puppet company Pickled Image. This two-hander (with plenty of audience participation) sees clowns Dik and Adam trapped inside a cardboard world, the stage strewn with props and furniture made entirely of old brown boxes. Though dull and beige at first glance, the cardboard brings a lot of creative colour to the show as everything from musical instruments to fine dining and even an unruly chainsaw are produced in cardboard form.
Dik Downey and Adam Blake are wildly energetic as the two clowns charged with bringing these specially fabricated cardboard objects to life. The clowns are a likeable duo, with excellent comic timing, who routinely invite audience members onstage to join in with their adventures, throwing elements of improvisation into the mix. The clowns’ costumes (giant shoes and wide trousers made from hessian sacks) and their face paint give the whole production a kind of sideshow atmosphere, strongly evoking the classic sad clown character.
Though it contains some themes suitable for ages 16+ only, ‘Coulrophobia’is not as sinister as some of Pickled Image’s previous offerings, such as the fantastic ‘Shop of Little Horrors’. That said, this show isn’t simply clowning around and though a comedy at heart, it is quite unsettling in places, particularly with the appearance of Poco the Clown. Puppet makers Dik Downey and Emma Powell have created a distinctly eerie character in Poco - an evil master whose booming voice can be heard shouting orders throughout the show, adding a dystopian edge to the proceedings. When Poco finally appears as a child-sized, white-faced clown puppet on roller skates, controlled by Downey and Blake, this unpleasant despot makes it easy to see why the fear of clowns is a genuine condition. It soon becomes clear that the two clowns are imprisoned, shackled to Poco, and their future bleak. That is, unless they can trick some audience members into replacing them…
This imaginative piece proves once more that Pickled Image are masters of dark theatre and an great asset to British puppetry.