What the press says
DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS REVIEW: SLÄPSTICK
by: Andrew Eaton-Lewis
Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Fans of Mikelangelo And the Black Sea Gentlemen might enjoy this Dutch troupe, whose Fringe debut offers a similar combination of musical virtuosity and anarchic spirit, although the humour is largely physical.
Släpstick, on the surface, is a homage to a golden age of physical comedy – chairs collapse, musical instruments are made into weapons, and there are numerous direct references to Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy (who appear on film at one point as the cast mirror their dance moves). A Marx Brothers-style fairground huckster whose sales patter is virtually incomprehensible is an early highlight and develops into an inspired running joke, as the audience is invited to try and win prizes in increasingly outlandish ways.
It’s the music, though – all performed live by Släpstick, on an impressive variety of instruments – that ultimately ties it together, from a series of hilariously strange barbershop style, a cappella renditions of familiar songs (includingly, incongruously, Uptown Funk as you’ve certainly never heard it before, probably even in Holland) to a fantastic scene featuring various sizes of accordions. And there is unexpected, genuine poignancy in the moment when a frail old man with shaking hands, after several comical minutes of unsuccessfully trying to get to a microphone, finally manages to sing (some of) Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable.
Släpstick deserve to find a wide audience. Children, in particular, will love them – my four-year-old spent half the show mesmerised, the other half hooting with laughter. A small warning to female audience members: if you don’t fancy being the focus of Wereldband’s attention for a considerable while, as they take turns attempting to seduce you for laughs, maybe don’t sit in the middle of the front row.
CLOWNING GLORY IN MIX OF MUSIC AND COMEDY SKILLS
by: Alan Chadwick
ThIs virtuoso musical and comedy from Dutch five-piece Släpstick arrives in edinburgh for its UK debut trailing hosannas and five-star reviews from the Netherlands in its wake. And it’s easy to see why.
Each year, the Fringe seems to throw up an unexpected sleeper hit that begins by playing to halfpacked houses (as was the case when I caught the show) before word of mouth gets around.
It quickly becomes one of the must-see shows in edinburgh and could run for a further month and still not satisfy the demand for tickets. At least, that’s the fate I sincerely hope befalls this hilarious ode to vaudeville, whose touchstones include Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, spike Jones and Laurel and hardy. Put simply, slapstick is utterly wonderful. so much so, in fact, that if I could clear a date in my diary and go to see it every day, I would. As proceedings get under way on a stage littered with props and musical instruments, the comic ensemble can be found tuning up, working out and mingling with the audience.
Then we’re off and running into the riotous carnival heart of the show, as a trip to the fairground becomes the leap-off point into a life-affirming series of skits and musical numbers that showcase the dexterous, multi-tasking clowning and musical skills of this irrepressible troupe. Normally, I’d pick out a few highlights, but the show is pretty much a succession of them.
A swan Lake parody featuring an ice-skating ballerino is a hoot; the Laurel and hardy tribute played in sync to stan and Ollie projected onto the back cloth a reminder of more innocent times; and the barbershop quartet segments, crooned in Dutch (it is in German) – which (don’t ask me why) just seems to up the comedy value tenfold – had me in stitches.
All of this interlaced with bursts of hot jazz that prove the clowning skills of this bunch are matched only by their impeccable musical skills. Take it from me, these boys can play every bit as well as they can play around. Packed full of cartoonish, slapstick brio and presided over by a lovable, fast-talking huckster you could swear was Zeppo Marx come back from the grave, the show is one big glorious riot from start to finish and well deserving of its standing ovation. Buy a ticket while you still can.
FRINGE PHYSICAL THEATRE REVIEWS: SLÄPSTICK, ASSEMBLY GEORGE SQUARE THEATRE
by: Mary Brennan
OFF-stage, the five guys in Släpstick have clearly spent time absorbing the evergreen schtick of Hollywood greats like Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers. On-stage, it’s their own zany energy that refreshes the visual gags from silent movies or the comedy capers out of old-time vaudeville. They even recreate fairground sideshows, merrily wheedling audience members to throw balls at tin cans or compete in a cod shooting gallery. This looning-around is hugely entertaining in itself, but this Dutch troupe are also talented and versatile musicians, who can shift from a capella crooning to rag-time instrumentals by way of poptastic spoof. Kids and adults alike succumb to giggles and guffaws at a cavalcade of daftness that is superbly orchestrated and never misses a trick.
VIRTUOSIC MUSICAL COMEDY IS A FEAST FOR THE EYES AS WELL AS EARS
by: Katharine Kavanagh
A slapstick was once a device used to create sound and comedy simultaneously. Making good on their title’s promise, Släpstick never miss a beat in their multi-skilled, multi-instrumentral homage to past greats, delivering a tour-de-force musical extravaganza of classic physical comedy.
The Dutch band have been directed by Stanley Burleson, who has created a dramaturgically complete universe of vintage hipster appeal, set in the backstage area of an old Hollywood lot. Projections of silent movie footage, exquisite costume design from Jan Aarntzen, and gorgeous colours shining on brass and warm wood—an orchestral collection of every instrument you could imagine—set the scene for a series of clowned compositions based at a fictional fairground. New Jersey patter man Jon Bittman is extraordinary as he rustles up custom for half-time games between musical sketches.
The choice of instruments played is as integral to the action as the five men’s impeccable comic timing, and offers some inventive suprises too. There is a ghost of hurdy-gurdy beneath all the mash-up compositions, but if this is not to your usual taste the song material offers enough variety to hold interest, spanning barbershop Beyoncé, television themes and old man crooning that also manages to strike a chord on the inside.
We’re left, though, with one big conundrum. Is it: “How did these clowns become such accomplished musicians?” Or is it: “How did these musicians become such accomplished clowns?”.
ASTONISHING MUSICAL BUFFOONERY FROM SLÄPSTICK
by: Henk van Gelder
Before the show evens starts, the pianola is already tinkling and the stage looks like a junk shop full of objects that could make music. This is the new show Släpstick from Släpstick, who found fame partly through musical tomfoolery in theatre shows starring Ellen ten Damme and Karin Bloemen. They are a five-piece group, but play a great many instruments that are continually swapped amongst themselves. They have mastered the music hall style at a ridiculously high level, with a clownish arsenal of visual lunacy.
Släpstick, proficiently directed by Stanley Burleson, is a spectacular ride where the men portray rather Chaplin-esque figures, presenting their musical rigmarole with a tragi-comic wink. In the Chaplin song Smile they show that one can also sing through a tuba mouthpiece. A dying swan, accompanied by the atmospheric strains of Saint-Saëns, is saved by an ice-skater who happens to flash by. Schubert is melodiously interpreted with a violin, clarinet, gong and a little piano. And versions of more recent songs, such as Raindrops keep falling on my head and Bohemian Rhapsody, become irrepressibly comical when translated into German, and performed in the style of the pre-war Comedian Harmonists.
Some scenes may seem silly to some (the singer who continuously forgets to words to Unforgettable), but that doesn’t really matter. Something surprising always quickly follows.
PROOF THAT SLAPSTICK IS ALIVE AND KICKING
by: Rinske Wels
How wonderful that the five extraordinary musicians of Släpstick are making an ode to an almost forgotten art form: slapstick. And they do it magnificently. They don’t brush their admiration for their role models under the carpet: Laurel & Hardy, the musical madness of Spike Jones and his orchestra, and the acts of the great Mini & Maxi. Director Stanley Burleson, who earned his stripes in musicals, has constructed a flowing whole with something new to see in literally every moment on stage as well as a host of recurring elements.
The setting of the show ‘Släpstick’ reminds you of a tasteful, smoky nightclub from the twenties. This production exploits strong physical humour and includes two silent films – one starring the fantastic Brigitte ‘Kahndorf’ as the diva who has lost her dog – accompanied with live music by the performers. The acts follow one another in rapid tempo, all effectively based around the music.
Take for example the five gentlemen in dapper white jackets with black piping and straw hats. They walk on and take their places, one counts off, and they launch into contemporary pop hits – but a capella and in German. Recognisable, hilarious and disconcerting. ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie becomes ‘Hallo, sucht Du veilleicht nach mir’. Mayhem breaks loose when we hear Sonneveld’s ‘Zo heerlijk rustig’ (‘So nice and quiet’), but whatever happens, the show goes on. Phenomenal.
Another fine moment is a romantic ode by two of the performers, taking it in turns to woo a lady in the first row. The accompanists must swap faster and faster between a mandolin and guitar, stuck to each other back to back. This can only happen with Släpstick. It appears that they have found their definitive form in their sixth production. Proof that slapstick is still alive and kicking was found at the fully packed premiere, where the many children shrieked with glee at every seemingly simple blunder: ladder against head, a ridiculously large boxing glove or a collapsing chair.
The performers have sophisticatedly forged all elements together, and continue to amaze with every fresh finding. Inspired by a regal tradition, with a modern interpretation. A richly filled sweet shop that you can’t get enough of – ‘Släpstick’ is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. A deep bow for the craftsmanship of Släpstick.
WITH SLÄPSTICK YOU WON’T KNOW WHAT HAS HIT YOU:
THEIR NEWEST SHOW HAS UNPARALLELED LEVELS OF AMUSEMENT!
by: Patrick vd Hanenberg
The five performers refer to rich traditions whilst being unbelievably innovative.
A shaky elderly gentleman peskily blocks the parterre entrance with his walking frame. Later, we see him again in a masterful Buster Keaton-esque act as a senile singer. In the meantime, a musician on stage shoots a swan out of the air, that goes on to play its own role in a fantastical variant of the Swan Lake ballet. Even then, we’re only just getting started. These five musical clowns fit enough material for two first-rate shows into one production.
Slapstick, music hall and silent film are genres that don’t immediately appeal to everyone. There is no other explanation for why this group of artists is consistently ignored by television stations. Släpstick’s love for the music hall tradition positively drips from them, with references to Chaplin, fairground romanticism, and the German depression-era a capella group Comedian Harmonists. But at the same time, their shows are delightfully modern, innovative and humorous.
Together with Percossa and the Ashton Brothers, and boosted by director Karel de Rooij (the ‘mini’ of Mini & Maxi) the group displays the best evidence that the disappearance of this genre would be a great impoverishment for the theatre world. The newest production of Släpstick has unprecedentedly high levels of amusement.
You literally won’t believe your eyes: the drummer and his instruments are physically slung around the stage, five musicians plays the same double bass at once, the slide of the trombone turns out to be both a flute and a violin bow, and even the clarinet mouthpiece is a fully functioning instrument in the hands of Släpstick. A phenomenal production.
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