All an Act

Mon 13th – Sat 18th August 2012


Ellen Smyth

at 01:45 on 17th Aug 2012



‘All an Act’ is ingenious. Playwrite Sean Michael Welch has taken two clowns - one bipolar and the other alcoholic – to create a play of hidden depth and emotion. A big nod of appreciation should go towards Melody Erfani for her careful direction. It is clear that these characters have been thoroughly developed: their clown personas are cleverly crafted. If we factor in comic props and a healthy splattering of well timed jokes then the standard of this play is raised a notch higher.

Adam Petherbridge (Merkin) and Kathleen O’Neal (Petunia) are a fabulous pair of actors - enchanting, expressive, and with a tightly woven and flowing dialogue. The drama is dark, non-stop, constant and alive on stage without being over-acted. It follows two people trying to make their way through the murky waters of a 20 year old friendship. If I’m honest, no matter how dark the plot: the idea of watching two clowns take to the stage on a tricycle initially filled me with dread. It inspired memories of a nightmarish 5th birthday party, a disastrous balloon-animal experience and getting lost in the Big Top.

But despite appearances, ‘All an Act’ isn’t really about clowns. There’s no creepy mime. Zero eye-rolling. Could we consider in fact that this might be a classy clown act? Now don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of rubber chickens, squirting water and face paints. But if you’re looking for something silly or frivolous then you have come to the wrong circus. If we strip ‘All an Act’ of it circus setting, then what you’re left with is a very human story – one of love, learning, and growing up. The clowning around backstage conceals a dark interior and explores the idea that we are all fools in love. Roll up, Roll up: this show should not be missed.


Jessica Reid

at 10:17 on 17th Aug 2012



'All An Act' is original and engaging. It tells the story of two clowns, best friends for years, three weeks after they have sex and mistakenly use a balloon instead of a condom.

This play is not faultless: the script is too rambling and very little happens in terms of plot. Petunia (Kathleen O’Neal) is overly abrasive and Merkin (Adam Petherbridge) is pretty inept at dealing with a character he has supposedly grown up with. However, both characters develop during the play and are performed well. 'All An Act' is essentially one long argument, featuring lots of clowning about which delights the audience even as it highlights the discrepancies between their lives as professional jokers and their real, far darker personal lives.

'All An Act'’s humour is complex. It is extraordinary how hard it is to take a clown seriously, even when they are distraught. Merkin “can’t deal with the deep shit” and so makes practical jokes anytime he feels socially awkward. Conversely, Petunia is highly acerbic and has no problems revealing that she is livid. Her lines are cutting, cruel and witty. This play is as much an exploration of comedy as it is about friendship and growing up. Some of the funniest moments are also the darkest – such as the juggling bottles of anti-psychotic pills. This play really is funny, especially at the start, although by the end it becomes extremely bleak.

Both performers are utterly convincing in their roles although the forcefulness of Petunia’s personality means that she rather steals the show. The actors are excellent at clowning as well as acting, and the contrast of serious issues and black humour with this is special and unique. At first I thought that it would prevent me from becoming emotionally involved with the sombre elements in 'All An Act' but it actually did the opposite, as the humour disarmed me, giving them more of an impact.

Although some sections are too long, the majority of 'All An Act' is gripping and interesting. There are some surprising twists and turns. This is an impressive show and definitely worth a watch.


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