Every so often a show comes along that leaves me feeling that I’ve witnessed a little piece of magic. My Uncle’s Shoes was such a show. Two clowns (written and played with finesse by both Alexandre Casali and Lucio Tranchesi) form a travelling circus act, accompanied only by a cumbersome cart containing all sorts of props and surprises – which appear intermittently as the performance proceeds.
From the very first entrance of the eldest clown, it’s obvious that a master-servant dynamic exists between them, and the scene is set in true Commedia del’arte fashion. Our sympathy is with the young clown almost immediately, for the tyrannical attitude of his elder counterpart is apparent from the start. The elder clown, who wears his face paint like a mask, is all smiles for the public when it is on, yet becomes menacing and brutal to his younger protégée once it is removed.
The younger clown can neither rest nor relax for a second. He is lulled into a false sense of security by momentary kindness, but this ultimately leads only to punishment and derision. The disdain for him is so realistic that it made me wince to watch; his idolisation, and desperation to simply good enough, is just heart-breaking.
But the crux of the story lies with the older clown, the one-time crowd-pleaser who over time has lost the ability to steal the show. How can he pass on those age-old skills to a man he clearly feels is not up to them?
The performance contains no words, but the original music (composed by Jarbas Bittencourt) is superbly matched to the mood of the piece. It’s unobtrusive and haunting, the clarinets’ gentle rhythm matching the mood of the two men as their relationship shifts and transforms. And there is fantastic attention to detail by both Casali and Tranchesi, even down to the spreading of a tatty napkin or the tying of a shoelace. It is almost as if they are one; their comic timing and characterisation truly exquisite.
If there was one criticism I’d make, it’s that the progression of the piece and its inevitable conclusion feels somewhat predictable. But this alone detracted very little from this gentle, thoughtful and beautifully crafted piece of theatre. Never over-sentimental, it left me entranced, and as it unfolded before my eyes I felt I’d been in the presence of true genius. A spellbinding piece of theatre and one to be cherished this Fringe.