21 – 23 June 2018
Chloe Young, Megan Vaughan-Thomas, Ulima Ortiz, and Arthur Dumas
The Blimp family has moved to the UK, and mother Evelyn and father Phillip struggle with opening the door to their new house, let alone controlling daughter Emily and baby Dioxyne! The beginning of this show seemed innocuous enough – straightforward slapstick clowning and buffoonery, with the support of a few novelty props and classic white facepaint. For these first five or ten minutes, dialogue was minimal and/or in exaggerated French, but then the character of community leader Jocelyn Price was introduced in the form of a booming voice emanating from a picnic hamper… and things started to really get interesting!
These four recent graduates of Ecole Jaques Lecoq, Paris’ internationally famous physical theatre school, devise and perform as a collective without any director. According to the theatre manager, they were a pleasure to host at Blue Elephant, and almost manically cheery throughout their time there, though this may have had something to do with the gallons of coffee they powered through every day… And honestly, I can see why they needed it, as this performance was chock-full of creative and physical energy. This was both a strength and a weakness: sometimes the action onstage seemed to hurry through conceits and plot points which would have been more effective if explored at greater length, and as a result the story sometimes felt quite disjointed and oddly paced (for example, I loved the family game show section, however it began and ended so suddenly that I couldn’t really get into it as I’d have liked to). I also felt that the ending of the narrative was a little abrupt and not particularly satisfying; personally, I’d have closed it off with the family coming full circle, and appearing on a new neighbour’s doorstep to sinisterly welcome them to the community…
Really though, the fact is that this show had far too much to offer for it to all cram into 45 minutes. The Blimp family’s trials and tribulations may have been grotesquely, cartoonishly comic, but they did also provide some very astute commentaries on the experience of new migrants to the UK navigating the unspoken expectations of British social life and its concepts of respectability. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the disconnect between British attitudes of welcome to our neighbourhood, we value multiculturalism and we expect you to assimilate and learn to play by our rules. We were provided with a unique viewpoint on all of this by the positioning of the audience as both within the Blimps’ home, witnessing private scenes, and also as part of the wider community looking in from the outside and judging. The periodic breaking of the fourth wall kept us on our toes, particularly when the creepy, malevolent baby Dioxyne started taking an interest in audience members! Speaking of Dioxyne, she and her sister Emily really stole the show from their onstage parents; I don’t feel that this was a reflection on any of the actors’ abilities, as they all seemed very evenly matched, but rather that the two children were given the wilder roles, while the parents were often stuck playing the straight man.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable short performance which left me wanting more, and even thinking about the meat of its subject matter afterwards – unusual for a clowning show! The Klump Company artists certainly have a bright future ahead of them, and I hope they keep developing The Family Blimp to best showcase their obvious comic, creative, and sociopolitical talents. I’ll be looking out for them at the Edinburgh Fringe, and beyond!
Finally: my deepest apologies to the Klump Company and Blue Elephant Theatre for the extreme tardiness of this review. This is a reflection on developments in my personal life, and not in any way on my enjoyment of the show.