Grimaldi: King of the Clowns

Mon 6th – Sat 11th August 2012


Bridget Wynne Willson

at 09:38 on 7th Aug 2012



The premise of Howard Payne University’s production of ‘Grimaldi: King of the Clowns’ is an intriguing one: the life and times of the first ‘traditional’ clown and the tension between his off and onstage personas.

As an American university theatrical group virtually every cast member struggled with the English accent and could have given Dick Van Dyke a run for his money. In fact, accents in general seemed to be an issue for the group. For some unknown reason the role of ‘Signor’ (Josh Helms) was played entirely in a Russian accent. In the effort to speak the Queen’s English many actors lost the ability to be remotely convincing in their roles; this is one of the areas where Howard Payne’s performers need to work hardest to improve. The ‘Panto Players’ were those in most need of development as they often stared into the audience during scenes and need to work on their fake laughter.

Unfortunately the play was not part of the Free Fringe which would have been the only possible excuse for the unpolished nature of ‘Grimaldi’. Some moments, such as childish choreography and corpsing, were truly cringe-worthy and, especially with so much meta-theatre as subject matter, I briefly suspected that the actors were parodying themselves.

The show is not hopeless. Rivers Shotwell in the lead role was truly impressive. He was amusing as a clown, he was heartbreaking as the tortured Grimaldi, and he proved himself a star in the making, most notably through his competence in stage combat. His charisma and expertise were unfortunately not enough to compensate for the wooden performances by other actors as an even distribution of talent is vital to a cast’s success.

I do not wish to discourage the cast of ‘Grimaldi’ as to have made the transition from a small U.S. college to the Edinburgh Fringe is clearly admirable. With a little more enthusiasm some members could have aided Shotwell in his single-handed burden that is the play. Rather than merely speaking the lines they have learnt, they should follow Shotwell’s lead in getting into their characters’ mindsets and truly becoming them. Hopefully their experience at the Fringe coupled with the opportunity to get a feel for other, more successful shows will give them the motivation and talent to come back next year.


Julia Chapman

at 10:08 on 7th Aug 2012



Stilted dialogue, simplistic choreography and butchered accents could not be redeemed by the incredible performance of one actor. Grimaldi: King of Clowns smacked of amateurism throughout most of its duration. But from this decidedly unpolished production emerges a star in the form of Rivers Shotwell in the lead role as Joseph Grimaldi Jr., a young clown whose tragic life gave rise to the concept of the clown as we now know it.

The production is absurd from the moment the chorus sing the eye-roll inducing words ‘panto-panto-pantomime’. Absurd isn’t the right word; clowns are absurd, this was preposterous. The disorganised choreography gave the feeling of a school production and the ensemble work appeared unfinished.

Dramatically, there are a couple of elements that stand out apart from Shotwell’s excellent acting abilities. The most notable is the effect produced from the retreat of Joseph’s ‘friends’ while he performs for them, aptly emphasising his loneliness.

Shotwell is not, in fact, entirely alone in acting ability. Tucker Hull as Joseph’s brother has some moments of strength, and Josh Helms as their father is an excellent mime, despite an incongruous Russian accent (intended, I believe, to be Italian). Some of the more minor actors endeavour to put on what were in the end poorly-executed English accents, whereas some actors did not bother. This lack of continuity only highlights the poor quality of the accents attempted. Shotwell, on the other hand, boasts impressive Cockney and Irish accents, which he demonstrates in a marvelously mimed fight scene with himself.

Plaudits must almost entirely be given to Shotwell for carrying the performance. Through him, Joseph’s insecurity is palpable, and he is endearingly forlorn upon realising that he is only valued as a form of entertainment. His crowning achievement, however, must be the tragic painted-face performance in which the show culminates. It proved that the production actually has so much tragic potential and could have been quite enjoyable in the right hands. Shotwell’s descent from laughter to tears and then back again was heart-rending, and it was fitting that the image the audience was left with was of him alone.


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