Jones and Barnard
The Festival of Fools' Sunday Treats draw an unlikely crowd in central Belfast
A loaded grey sky above Cotton Court can't decide whether to rain or not. A small group of people have turned out to see Gareth Jones and Matt Barnard perform as part of the Festival of Fools' ongoing Sunday Treats series of outdoor performances. Undeterred by either weather or audience size, they start the music and limber up: the preparation is part of the act.
Both are nattily dressed in white shirt and black jacket, but there all resemblance ends. The slim Jones is the bouncy frontman, while Barnard is heavier, and plays the lazy deadpan foil. Jones effortlessly does a handstand; Barnard takes a run-up and leaves it at that. Like so many great comedy duos, they form a visual contrast and know how to use it to their advantage.
They finish setting up by marking off their performance area – their stage – with a length of rope. Jones explains it makes them look 'less like nutters shouting in the street, and more like pre-programmed entertainment'. He then urges the few attendees to stand around it 'and pretend you're a crowd'.
Jones then leads us in an applause and cheering contest and, standing on Barnard's shoulders, hails some people coming down the steps of the Merchant Hotel across the street. It works – dozens more people have stopped to watch their act, and even the sun has appeared.
While the actual tricks are nothing we haven't seen before, their performance is really made by their banter and rapport with the audience. Jones and Barnard adroitly incorporate lines about random occurrences ('I'll be there in a minute!' Jones calls to an obnoxiously honking car horn), and play to the whole of the audience.
Children get to join in (always a crowd pleaser) and a large tattooed man of the type you wouldn't want to pick a fight with sees his cigarettes disappear up Jones's nose and then handed back to him.
Jones and Barnard then take turns to undress to the tune of 'The Stripper'. Colourful leotards are revealed, prompting catcalls and shrieks from mums. A Newtownards chef helps with the big finale: Jones gets wrapped up in a straightjacket and chains by the chef, who knows where it hurts most.
Barnard, meanwhile, stands on a box with a pint of beer balanced on his head, sucking it up through a length of hose while juggling knives. 'I've got it under control!' he yells, as the drink foams into his eyes. Finally the lager is downed, and Jones wriggles free of the straitjacket with a last grunt: 'It's a boy!'
Their 40 minute show over, Jones and Barnard thank the more than appreciative crowd and take the opportunity to highlight the Festival of Fools. A hat is passed round for donations for the Belfast Circus School, which organises these Sunday Treats.
The Festival of Fools' Sunday Treats continue in Belfast until August 28.