Two actors and a stage manager try to break out of their own play in [INSERT PLAY], a not-quite-successful experiment in clowning and meta-theatre by Onsen Presents, Sam Toocaram, and Joe Sear-Myles.

Dressed in blacks and ready to tackle their hopeless, sprawling, repeatedly rewritten script, confusion and banter reign supreme in this physical, jokes-heavy hour of aspiring clown. Nobody knows their cue, and it’s wildly unclear how the piece is supposed to go — both inside and outside the fictional play they’ve (sort of) created.

The framing of the show sees us fall through many loops of self-reference, the quest for meaning and the desire to put on a coherent show lapsing into itself in an infinity-mirror of self-consciousness. The urge behind this is laid bare by an impassioned monologue in which the dreaded line ‘this is therapy’ lays bare the fact that this play is far more for its performers than its audience.

The ‘story’ behind the show being made isn’t quite substantial enough to grapple with, and so there’s not a strong vessel to hold the comedy gags. With these, the three performers show an awareness of many of the tricks and games of the genre, but they often aren’t finessed to a point of quite landing. The show needs a considerable degree of baking, and I’d suggest the performers look at developing their clowning personas.

As principal collaborators, Sear-Myles and Toller bring an earnest and bouncy energy to characters that feel just a bit too close to themselves, completed by the dry and sceptical stage manager who adds a straight-man foil to the other’s enthusiasm. The dynamics work at points, but struggle to stand out against circumstances that don’t establish themselves well, nor evolve into anything particularly interesting.

Meta-theatre is a notoriously challenging genre, requiring a command of the form of stagecraft that here feels missing, and is perhaps a more ambitious attempt than what their current theatre-making chops can successfully realise. The effect is a piece that’s full of jokes and clowning business but doesn’t have the edge, natural charm, or stakes that a successful piece of clowning possesses.

The creators of [INSERT PLAY] must be applauded for biting off such an ambitious project for their first outing as a team. They are likeable and the audience wants them to do well. However, the piece is simply not very entertaining, and it feels like there are many lessons they need to learn before this piece will be ready for a fuller production.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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