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vancouverplays review


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— Production photo credit: Gary Mulcahey

By Mump and Smoot
The Cultch
May 22-June 2
From $17 or 604-251-1363

Toronto’s John Turner and Michael Kennard are Mump and Smoot, self-described “clowns of horror.” Something introduced them to Canadian and American audiences back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, and they’ve been touring ever since. They used to make regular appearances in Vancouver but haven’t for a while, so their return to The Cultch is very welcome.

Like Mutt ‘n’ Jeff, Laurel and Hardy, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Tom and Jerry and every other famous odd couple act, they are contrasting types in a power relationship. Mump is tall, relatively well dressed, well behaved and civilized. Smoot, whom Mump tries (half-heartedly) to keep in line, is short, messy and wild. Mump is the intellectual, Smoot the trickster. But only to a point.

They communicate in gibberish: a combination of bird-like sounds, grunts, cackling laughs and snatches of words and gestures that are easily understood. They worship a god called Ummo to whom they (and the audience) sometimes pray.

The gags that make up Something have become a little creaky, but the clowns themselves have honed their improvisational skills—particularly their dynamic with the audience—so that the “horrors” they unleash in their routines are less impressive than the way they make the audience part of the anarchy. And they’re still really funny.

The action begins, unexpectedly, in the balcony and moves through the audience for quite a while before the onstage show even begins. No one is safe, especially not bald men. Everyone who sits in the front row does so at their peril. If that’s your choice, or your good/bad luck, I’d recommend you not wear your best clothes.

The show (which just as well could have been called Anything) is structured in three sections, each announced by a Goth-looking young woman (Candace Berlinguette – called Thug in the program) holding up a title-card. She plays a significant role in “The Cafe” as the waiter who serves Mump and Smoot the spaghetti and wine that ends up spat and spattered all over the stage. Look for the old fork-in-the-head gag and watch Thug out-manoeuvre them at their own game.

“The Wake” has our boys mourning the corpse of a dead clown. Their grief seems inconsolable. They weep profusely, pray, and toss around the remains of the meal from “The Cafe.” The turn comes when various body-parts detach themselves from the corpse and become props in Mump and Smoot’s games. Look for the Aliens gag.

The first two sections come together and climax in the third, “The Doctor,” which continues the clowns’ assault on decorum and the integrity of the human body. Mump is the doctor with an array of diabolical instruments, Smoot the patient. Heads get whacked, limbs severed, and guts fly all over the theatre. Look for the power of prayer to bring the dead back to life.

What’s missing in these plot summaries is the constant by-play the clowns carry on with members of the audience, which provides the real flesh on the bones of their routines . You’re not sitting in the dark invisible and indistinguishable to the performers onstage. They respond very specifically to individual vocal responses, and note, for example, not just if you participate in their group prayer to Ummo, but how you participate.

Don’t worry, you’re not likely to be asked to come up on stage (although one poor guy was—and did). But you can be pretty sure you’ll be on the receiving end of one of Mump’s white-faced, cold-eyed stares that say more than most of us could in a few sentences—and say it much funnier.

Jerry Wasserman