If you go down to the woods today, you probably won’t expect a dead clown on your hands and two teddy bears worried they will be charged for his murder. But at least that would constitute what would be, as Henry Hall sang, “a big surprise”.
In Greg Freeman’s allegorical, fantastical comedy, we first meet teddy bears Ludovic (Dan Frost) and Julius (James Sygrove) as they flee the scene of Bobo the Clown’s death. With clowns being the ruling class, they fear capture — not least because teddy bears cannot possibly lie: their motto, Honore veritatum, is “embroidered into our underpants”, says the (admittedly pants-less) Julius.
And so begins a philosophical treatise on the nature of truth and storytelling, and where one gives way to the other. “There is no such thing as the whole truth – the truth is always a story,” says the beauty-obsessed Greta (Helen Russell-Clark), a doll who the bears turn to for help. And when the clowns finally catch up with the bears, their ability to spin a story without actually lying is put to the test.
On paper, it sounds enthralling and intriguing. And in his script, Freeman creates a logically consistent fantasy world, with a nice line in comedy to counterbalance the philosophy. But against the theory of the play comes the practicality of its execution.
Director and designer Ken McClymont seeks to accentuate the fairytale setting of the world by constructing all the sets as the pages of a pop-up book, each scene change being accompanied by a turning of the page. Unfortunately, this imaginative approach really doesn’t have the budget to translate to an effective build. One can’t help feeling that a little more reality in the practicalities of design would have enhanced the fantasy, rather than detracted from it as it does here.
Still, a chilling performance from Rhys King as the investigating clown and Sygrove’s charmingly honest Julius — like Bungle from Rainbow, if he’d been discovered indulging in sexual experimentation and couldn’t face lying about it — are the highlights of this otherwise flawed piece.