So you thought the clowning revival of 2013/4 was a fad hmm? Out. Get OUT! You make me sick. It only takes a few minutes of Nautilus to see that the genre’s got plenty of legs – much like Trygve Wakenshaw himself, the long-limbed Kiwi currently packing them into the Soho Theatre.
Yes it’s been a few years since Dr Brown and then Wakenshaw hauled, with massively exaggerated gestures, silent comedy into the 21st century, doing for the medium what Nina Conti has done for ventriloquism. And with Dr Brown missing presumed surfing somewhere off the West Coast, Wakenshaw is left as chief flame-carrier. With Nautilus, I think he is also now stepping out of the shadow of Dr Brown (his breakthrough show Kraken being too similar to Brown’s work for comfort), and the show thoroughly deserved to pick up a nod for the Fosters Best Comedy Show last year.
It’s 75 minutes of largely silent sketches in which Wakenshaw teases out a little story, unraveling it at just the right pace to get you hooked. Most of them involve an animal of some sort – a man marrying a chicken, a cat and a bird (or IS it a bird?!) singing show tunes together, a dinosaur being stalked by a hunter – and his portrayals of these creatures is far more entertaining than I can describe here. His bird hopping on a branch is particularly delightful.
To me, he’s like a one-man Pajama Men. His sketches give the same impression of having been born out of improvisation, and take similar PM-esque turns. He also shares their remarkable gift for making good physical comedy look simple. If anything he’s far more cartoonish than them, more exaggerated, less dense in his conceits. A bigger, dumber version you could say.
Away from the animals there are more fabulous moments, such as his air steward saying goodbye as passengers leave the plane, and the recurring character of the goofy barman in the Wild West saloon who is straight out of Looney Tunes. There are themes and jokes that reappear and provide a bit of nourishment, though I would still argue the show doesn’t need to be 75 minutes long.
Somewhat inevitably things get meta towards the end, as the reality of his performance and the reality of his characters collide in that Wild West saloon. It isn’t just clever-clever, it’s funny and subtly performed, and it’s even oddly touching as his characters get utterly confused as to what hellish portal has been opened.
A light-hearted, very funny show that’s a bit different to most other comedy shows out there. Check it out.
Review by Paul Fleckney