Adelaide Festival review: The Artist

A clumsy artist encounters a series of obstacles as he seeks inspiration from his surroundings. The persistent painter, however, has a solution for every problem.

Mar 10, 2020, updated Mar 10, 2020
Photo: Antti Saukko

Photo: Antti Saukko

We’re only five minutes into the show when a small voice pipes up from the row behind us: “He’s so funny!” The rest of the crowd agrees. From the opening moments, “the artist” (a lithe, mop-haired fellow in spectacles and a striped T-shirt) is drawing plenty of laughs.

We meet him in his studio and it’s clear he’s scratching for new ideas (he’s putting the finishing touches on a work that clearly demonstrates how stuck he is). Before long he’s struggling to get started on a fresh project. Perhaps a still life? He’s already done one of those, but he has some fun fiddling with a fruit bowl, a bottle of wine and a glass before an unscripted slip with one of the props results in a short pause in the performance.

Undaunted, he scrambles to sort out his tools and make some progress as an annoying drip, drip, drip of water from the ceiling distracts him. It’s one of several running jokes in this charming show that holds attention right to end — an end that proves one should never give up on a dream, no matter how blank your canvas is at the start.

In The Artist (a follow-up to his hit show The Pianist), New Zealand-born, Finland-based Thom Monckton uses physical theatre and circus skills, as well as his talents as a visual artist, to explore the search for inspiration and the creative process.

Monckton trained at New Zealand’s circus school CircoArts and the physical theatre school Lecoq in Paris. He has worked as a solo artist in New Zealand and as an actor with the Ugly Shakespeare Theatre Company and is now based in Europe. Monckton’s Kallo Collective, formed with friends from Lecoq, runs physical theatre workshops and produces an annual physical comedy festival in Helsinki with a focus on diverse “no words” performances.

The Artist is directed by Sanna Silvennoinen, director of Finland’s Circo Aereo, an international contemporary circus group that has performed in more than 30 countries.

Despite his slight frame, Monckton displays immense strength and balance as he flings himself around the stage, perching at various times on a chair, a table, a shelf and a ladder as he battles to gain control of his creative process. The hapless artist is ungainly (the simple act of crossing his arms is a challenge) and a little accident prone, but he turns each setback into a win with determination and a bucketload of self-belief.

There are many hilarious moments of connection with the audience, including an unconventional game of ping pong and the clever use of one theatre-goer’s artistic talents.

The Artist is a masterpiece of clowning, mime and acrobatics and will surely be one of the family-friendly favourites of this year’s Adelaide Festival.

The Artist is showing at Main Theatre, AC Arts, until March 14.

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