Sunday Treats

Despite the rain, two very different performers attempt to tickle Belfast's funny bone

Cotton Court is bathed in sunlight at the start of this double dose of the Festival of Fools Sunday Treats, but clouds loiter with intent on the horizon.

An Aussie 'beautician on a mission' kicks off proceedings with a stripped down version of the act she brought to Belfast in 2009. Gone is the rotating platform and the Yvonne Calling-banners, but her stage persona and wicked banter are intact.

Too bad Calling is hampered by an audience that is reluctant to interact. As a rule, people tend to keep to the fringes of a space, and at Cotton Court this means that they’ll be quite far away from the action and too dispersed to form a cohesive crowd. Where other performers might mark off a smaller space with a rope, Calling bridges the gap with a headset and sound equipment.

It seems that the audience doesn’t quite know what to make of her, which is too bad, because her act is fun. She combines hula hoop work and dance with juggling knives and torches, but manages to give these old staples a fresh context. The hula hoop tricks in particular are great, but maybe it all looks too effortless to be really admired.

Calling casts herself as a lust object, joking that as an air stewardess she went from Virgin to EasyJet. She embarrasses a photographer with cheesecake poses, and slowly unzips her dress, soliciting wolf calls. Perhaps it’s all a bit too confrontational, though, especially when she sends up that image with flatulence jokes and a gag that ends with her applying lipstick all over her face and teeth.

It's fair to say that this is unexpected for some, and might account for mixed reactions, especially for those who earlier tried to catch a glimpse of her panties. But ultimately it's a good show, though one that would work better in a more intimate setting with the paraphernalia of the travelling beautician to give the audience firmer expectations.

Expecting the Half Fit Chef to appear next, it’s festival director Will Chamberlain who takes the stage to address the crowd. He explains that the Chef has sprained his wrist while signing copies of his book, but has sent his personal healer as replacement.

While preparing the grounds for the guru, Chamberlain highlights the repeat performances held at St Anne's Square. While he’s keen to open up this location, with the impending opening of the MAC, to street theatre, it’s unclear how the lack of passersby will affect the dynamics of street theatre, which feeds so much on the ability to rope in people in the vicinity.

Darrell Summers, International Healer, arrives ten minutes late. It’s drizzling now, and audience members are getting impatient. Playing the ocarina, decked out in dreadlocks and a psychedelic shirt, he declares in deadpan, slightly lugubrious voice to the restless audience that his ultimate goal is to heal Belfast.

However, as has been proven many times before, Belfast is resistant to being healed, and for a street performer to attempt such a thing is to invoke hubris.

Summers starts to bless both the people in the adjacent tapas bar, who really don’t want to be part of the show, and the audience. He's then sidetracked when the iPod hooked up to the amplifier backs up.

Ironically, the basic strength of his act is proven as he improvises a running commentary on the music malfunction. 'You got this at Clapham Junction, didn’t you, and not at Curry's at all!' Summers whines to Chamberlain, who has stepped in to assist.

Music restored, Summers bravely continues his act, audience rapidly dwindling under the increasing downpour. He is frustrated in his attempts first by a very loud angle grinder from a nearby building site, a further short-circuiting of the wet amplifier and one little girl who repeatedly runs 'onstage' yelling, despite Summers's attempts to both incorporate her into his act and highlight her behaviour to her parents.

Finally, he has to throw in the towel: or rather, meditation mat. What he could show of his act was very good, but less suitable for the children in the front row, and much more aimed at the adults who hung back, watching the skies. Hopefully his next visit to Belfast will be on a sunnier day.

The Festival of Fools Sunday Treats continue until August 28.