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Two Heads Are Better Than One
Etcetera Theatre
23rd August 2013


Anna Haskell-Thomas and Verity Hicks as Bumpkin and Plum

Photography supplied by Plumpkin Theatre Company

Honestly, you wait all Fringe for a clowning act then two show up at once. Hot on the heels of the impeccable Love Sick comes emerging company Plumpkin Theatre Company and their piece, Two Heads Are Better Than One. I'm not going to compare too heavily, as both shows are doing something very different - the former using clowning to enhance an otherwise brilliantly written work, the latter going in heavy and traditional making it all about the physical comedy with almost nary a word spoken. The target audiences, too, seem disparate - All In Theatre going for a more adult tone, but largely being all-ages and Plumpkin trying for all-ages but hitting more accurately the children's end of the spectrum.

What we see, then is a couple of days in the life of two clowns, Plum (Verity Hicks) and Bumpkin (Anna Haskell-Thomas), as they go about their business getting dressed, preparing some lunch, reading the paper and bickering. But, oh no! The pair have a falling out and must endure the second day alone before - spoiler alert - realising that friendship is all, and two heads are better than one. The plot isn't the most complex, but it's secondary to the duo actually buffooning around during their set pieces.

As I said, the pair are traditional with big red noses, an ill-fitting jacket and flat cap hinting at the tramp archetype. Their multicoloured socks are the closest you can get to huge clown shoes on a small stage while still being practical. The show begins with the pair in bed, arguing over the duvet in (as will become the norm) a nicely choreographed scene of domestic ridiculousness and mundanity amplified tenfold. But lying on the floor meant that a number of audience members were actually straining to see the action - a problem that would be worse for any kids in the crowd. Their attempt to clean up and brush their teeth gives us a little bit of gross-out humour and what little dialogue there is usually leads into some awful but brilliant pun. The request for some toilet roll, in particular, elicits a groan turning into a laugh - one of the best sounds ever in my opinion.

Verity Hicks and Anna Haskell-Thomas and Plum and Bumpkin

Photography supplied by Plumpkin Theatre Company

Other routines are less successful. Quite why the pair decided to make a cup of tea to the tune of The Stripper is beyond me. In the same way I wouldn't expect a modern stand-up to riff on a watered-down version of a George Carlin set, I don't want to see an inferior version of one of the greatest and most iconic sketches in comedy history. Ignorance is no excuse - the pair cite Morecambe and Wise in their press material. Perhaps I'd be lighter on them if it was just a throwaway reference, but it goes on too long for that. Although, in their defence, they shake up the skit on the "second day" and it's a pleasing enough pay-off. Some references, too, would have seemed outdated even ten years ago. A homage to Titanic is saved by Hicks' mischievous attempts to give an authentic cruise liner sound, complete with foghorns. Equally, the overused Mission: Impossible theme, Eye of the Tiger and more all get nods - although admittedly it does make their work accessible and provides some change to the background elevator music used throughout.

Still, there's a lot to like. Hicks taking the place of Haskell-Thomas' legs works beautifully set against Jason DeRulo's Ridin' Solo. Their failed attempts to do things alone also gives rise to some great moments - Hicks flirting with herself, for example. And when the pair interact and bounce off the audience - and in my show one very shy little girl - showed a true spark of improvisational joy. There's a hint at subversion, too, as Haskell-Thomas mimes the words "You're the best man I've ever known".

In all, Two Heads is a promising start from the newly-formed company, especially as the pair are so freshly out of university. Every time they began to lose me, there was a smirk, a gesture or a glance that pulled me back in. They just need to be unafraid to be increasingly original, pushing the boundaries and clarifying their intent. It's all well and good to be an animated Disney film that the parents don't mind going to watch with their kids, but another thing entirely to be an all-ages Pixar classic. The performers need to reach for the latter, because I think they have it in them.

Two Heads Are Better Than One ran from 23rd to 25th August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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