A good prop can be the making of a clown. So, when I say that a stepladder is the star of Pss Pss, I mean no slight on Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari, who go together under the name Baccala Clowns.
When a trapeze plummets from the flies, the two stand shoulder to shoulder, gaping upwards. The ladder, handily placed by a stagehand at the back of the stalls, is hauled through the audience, fast-ducking as it swishes overhead. Placed upside down, apparently unwittingly, it becomes an object so unusual that it is capable of surprising us just as much as them. They blow tunes through its rungs, spring it open and shut with their jaws and, finally, climb it in spectacularly awkward style.
The ladder – like the less everyday trapeze, on which they later sprawl and clamber over on another precariously – unlocks their play in a way that the staple objects that precede it can’t. Instead these generally give rise to standard clowning games of status and (happy) accident. There’s a touch of teacher-pupil to their relationship, with Fassari as the prissy parent, prudishly tucking his chin, to Pessi’s fidgety child, her pigtails frayed and frazzled.
Until 2010, Pessi and Fassari largely played circuses and cabarets, before turning their hand to theatre-based clowning. That might explain the turn-based structure of Pss Pss, which trots through a series of individual routines without attempting any broader coherence.
Even so, these are cute and ticklish with a nice line in feigned ineptitude. They greet the unremarkable with astonishment – bowing after ‘juggling’ a single apple – and the impressive with unaffected nonchalance. Yet all this is the clown’s meat and veg and its only when the ladder breaks the mould that you feel Pessi and Fassari really own Pss Pss. The rest is standard-issue perambulatory tomfoolery by the book.