Cliff Jumping For Beginners.

I’ve been enjoying the company of some familiar internal characters recently.

I’d like you to meet, my Daydreamer.

Her attention span resembles that of a Labrador chasing squirrels in the park. Whenever I have something important to do, i.e, write my Second-And-Very-Best-Blog-Post-About-Fooling, my Daydreamer rolls about on my keyboard like a cat.

With Circus City glittering all over Bristol, Holly Stoppit’s company: Beyond The Ridiculous were sure to be in sight. They played their Fooling show: Cliff Jumping For Beginners this weekend at The Wardrobe Theatre. I was invited as Official Blogger Of The Event, which my Internal Eager Academic took ever so seriously.

The show was brilliant. How frustrating… You see, if it had been rubbish, my Inner Critic could have just written a scathing review and felt wonderfully wretched. Huzzah for the easy option! Alas. Right at the front, grinning ear-to-ear, sat my Gushing Fan: arch enemy of Inner Critic.

Fooling is improvised, so nobody knows what will happen next, until it does. The audience is plunged into the deep end of the player/s’ world: a kaleidoscopic, one-man-band of human experience.

Music can help bring another dimension to the fool’s characters. Holly and Simon Panrucker’s ad hoc sound accompaniment-ranging from country western to cheek-squelching- fluidly supported the fools’ process. Think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

The theme of the show was Risk: the gravity that keeps fool and audience dancing in orbit, allowing a unique chemistry to flicker between them.

And so, armed with nothing but their instincts, vulnerability and honesty, four brave fools faced the full house.

Fool #1: Katie Storer bravely unleashed her Squibbling Pest into the audience…and it drew on a man’s face with lipstick. Northern Landlord Derekk called an Alabaman Exterminator, who danced and cried with her Lonely Bartender. Together they learned the secret magic of mushy peas and pie buns.

Fool #2: Ed Rapley conquered his fear of admin, engaging in an existential metamorphosis from Empty Walnut to Time-Travelling Artist Who Actually Sends Emails. Upon transformation, his Restless Philosopher exclaimed, to the audience’s stomping delight, that:

“Calendars aren’t death, they’re time machines!”

Fool #3: Steph Kempson’s Brutal Editor warned us all to “BE. MORE. INTERESTING”. Violent scissor-stabs befell any character held suspect of being a “metaphorical cul-de-sac“. Brian the Boring Poet was put to death at the audience’s request- a deliciously gory sacrifice in the name of “Good Theatre”.

Fool #4: Holly Stoppit’s Inner Critic did not like seeing her vulnerable after years of keeping her firmly offstage. She was having a go at Holly’s nose-picking, when Patricia, Holly’s Academic, threatened to write a book. That knocked Critic off her perch. Go for it, Patricia.

The fools took the risk to be seen, and generously poured their hearts and souls onto the stage for us to splash in. They were received with raucous, beaming applause.

Cliff Jumping For Beginners demonstrated the positive power of just doing the things we wish we could, using the timeless argument: what’s the worst that could happen?

I look forward to Beyond The Ridiculous’ plan to expand their mental-health awareness outreach. Their work advocates finding freedom from self-doubt in all its forms, and enables a safe space for discourse between conflicting aspects of our lives.

We use all sorts of destructive methods to avoid happiness. Silence, withdrawal, convincing ourselves we never really wanted happiness anyway, because what if one day it disappears and you never get it back?

Through fooling we learn the importance of not avoiding things that make us happy. We learn to trust that happiness comes from honesty and connection, and it will always find its way back to us, if we let it.

It takes a little risk to dare to be happy.

Take it.

Learn more about Beyond The Ridiculous on Facebook and Holly’s website here:

Holly Stoppit runs many, many workshops where you can discover for yourself the transformative power of being silly:

What Actually Happens During Holly’s Fooling Workshops?

To apply for any courses, you need to first complete Holly’s Introduction To Clowning Weekend.


The Caretaker.

I love silliness, clowning and generally messing around, but sometimes the academic in me can’t resist the classics. I recently saw a production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Bristol Old Vic. It got me thinking about how we ask other people for what we want. In particular, how we convince people that we are worth their time.

Pinter’s three characters want entirely different things- be it power, safety, a home, friendship, new shoes, or simply to build a shed. The crux is that they cannot work out a system in which everyone can have what they need. Thus, they are reduced to the age-old system of ‘The Biggest Fish In The Pond Gets All The Grubs’.

I was once in the car with my dad, when the song: ‘I’m Your Handyman’  by James Taylor began to play. We scoffed at James’ claim that he could fix any broken heart he turned his hand to.

To this day I remain unconvinced whether I would let a stranger from the radio loose with a screwdriver on my vital organs. But, I must admit, his smooth, assured confidence did sway me… It certainly worked in Mick’s favour in The Caretaker.

The play begins with Mick’s brother Aston bringing in Davies from life on the streets, and offering him the spare, albeit freezing, bed. Davies is smelly, racist, and… Let’s just say he doesn’t possess the seductive, dulcet tones of James Taylor. He pleads to Mick for employment as a caretaker, and is instead ensnared into Mick’s devious plans to kick him out.

It was painful to watch as Mick preyed on Davies’ weaknesses. Humiliating him with an assassin’s precision, he plunged Davies into the desperate caves of rock bottom. Despicable though he was, he was so artfully calculated you almost admired Mick as he dominated the room with his cold, condescending confidence.

The set: a precarious whirlwind of miscellaneous objects that dangled, swirled and climbed across the stage- was spectacular. On first sight, the general reaction of the audience was to gasp and ferret for their phones.

Mick’s appearance was enigmatic. As the audience filed in, he lay hauntingly still on a makeshift chaise-longue amidst the domestic rubble. It only became apparent he was not a mannequin as he sprang to life, exiting with a menacing prowl as if he was never there.

The director, Christopher Haydon’s bold decisions and subtle direction created a clear landscape for of the emotional charge of the play to erupt like a hurricane throughout the theatre.

I was captivated. The characters captured my heart; my body felt transported, beating in the heart of the play. Despite my super-cheap seat, I felt happily glued to the spot and like I was floating outside myself all at once- allowing me respite from the creeping numbness enveloping my buttocks. I now see how Shakespeare’s first audiences were able to stand for four hours through Henry V- there’s something about being totally captivated that makes you forget about your physical discomfort and drift into another world.

Haydon was interested in how people find a home in impoverished conditions, a concept echoed by people currently attempting to cross borders and seek asylum.  I felt this insight was introduced through the clear metaphor of Mick’s unwillingness to share his space with someone in need, and expanded through Haydon’s interpretation of the shady humour in the text. The bitter irony of black actor, Patrice Naiambana, playing Davies- who often complains about the “blacks across the street” was not lost on the Bristol audiencePinter himself comments on the humour in his writing:

“It is funny, up to a point. Beyond that point, it ceases to be funny, and it is because of that point that that I wrote it.”

Humour is as endless and reliable as a blanket of clouds over Weston-Super-Mare, yet it can often dampen the mood. Haydon recognised that an audience’s laughter in The Caretaker can come across as laughing at vulnerable people. The actors’ use of Pinter’s snappy, U-bend dialogue meant that laughter was cleverly redirected and the audience’s sympathies remained with the characters.

Amazingly, the dynamic pace also allowed me room to breathe and understand the story. I was left feeling that I understood the intentions of the writer, director and characters. This clarity spurred me to generously invest my emotions and time to the piece- a mutually beneficial relationship for performer and audience.

It just goes to show how gentleness and confidence can go hand in hand to create a piece of theatre that was beautifully brimming with humanity.