When I first saw Spitz & Co.’s glorious Gloriator during 2014’s Ignite festival, it instantly cured my antipathy towards all things clown-y by the sheer brilliance of Pauline Morel’s and Susie Donkin’s comedy performances, the precision of the writing, the exquisite timing, the slapstick, the cardboard, the pants. I thought, perhaps I like clowning after all. But then I saw some other stuff and realised that what I like is Spitz & Co.
In Gloriator, the ‘very famous French actress’ Gloria Delaneuf (Morel) is determined to create a touring version of Hollywood blockbuster Gladiator that addresses the film’s lack of female representation. Gloria plays all the major characters (in a scene between Gloriator and the emperor Commodus, both at the same time), and Josephine Cunningham (Donkin), her UK tour manager, ‘will play everyone else’. Including Gloriator’s horse. And all to raise the money to build a theatre and mime school for the children of the Kungalunga Jungle.
As the imperious Gloria reveals her vision, using every weapon in her armoury, from ‘theatre de la visage’ (her facial responses to the original film’s trailer) to mask to mime, the permanently bullied Josephine translates, tries to control the cardboard set and costumes, and attempts to reclaim some smidgen of autonomy through small acts of rebellious disruption. There are tantrums, set-related disasters, and a very proud flaunting of French skin. It is side-achingly funny.
Since I first saw it, the piece has tightened up considerably, and at times it feels as if there’s not quite enough space around some of the gags to fully delight in their absurdity – or maybe I just wanted it to go on and on – but in recompense there seems an extra dimension to Gloria’s self-awareness that provides the opportunity for some deliciously-played glances to the audience. This aspect also sets up Gloria’s state of mind for her transition to the next phase of her life, as a ‘former very famous French actress’ who is now an ‘internationally renowned animal scientist’.
And here is the premise of Glorilla – a lecture tour (sponsored by Clairol) recounting Gloria’s adventures in the Kungalunga Jungle and the ‘life-changing’ meeting with Mickey the gorilla, which sparked (along with a regular supply of ayahuasca) Gloria’s previously undeveloped abilities in inter-species communication. Via various devices – an imagined projector, a prayer drum, cardboard – we flash back to Gloria’s jungle experiences and discover just how happily the human race can co-exist with our primate cousins.
There is a kidnapping, a drug sequence, and a liaison with a Tarzan-a-like (‘don’t judge me,’ says Gloria). There are helicopters, a birthday cake and a conversation with a dead cat. Everyone and everything is in service to Gloria’s ego. And it is absolutely brilliant.
Once again, Josephine is tasked with bringing to life all the characters that populate Gloria’s tale, as well as recreating the dense foliage and raging rivers through which Gloria must struggle to rescue Mickey. Once again, we see the eternal tension between the demanding ‘talent’ and the hapless, overworked foil. Once again, they both end up in their pants. And once again Morel and Donkin demonstrate their spectacular comedy chops and dramaturgical sophistication in an hour of non-stop hilarity. Theirs is a comedy partnership in perfect balance and both these shows are unmissable.