Hell might just be a mediocre clown show seen from an appreciative audience, and clowning doesn’t come much more mediocre than The Art of Dying, by Paolo Nani and Kristjan Ingimarsson.
While its central supposition that death is constrictive of living fully is sound in and of itself, I’d question the wisdom of handling it solely in terms of performance. Nani and Ingimarsson play a successful double act. We see their routines onstage and their relationship backstage, the one often following immediately after the other, as they back through the curtains to reappear backwards straightaway to enjoy the applause in private. When the realisation of Nani’s imminent death breaks, their act blossoms. Nani, with his perfect sprig of clown hair, is suddenly able to fool with freedom, without the pressures of the future hanging heavy.
Clowns playing clowns, however, is a tricky proposition. It sends the whole thing spiralling into a meta-tailspin and, worse, brings a level of consciousness that scuppers our perspective on the clown. We become so aware of their art in constructing clumsiness and failure that delighting in their mishaps becomes impossible.
More enjoyable are their inadvertent successes, as, for example, when one nonchalantly lands an apple on the prongs of a fork in the other’s mouth. But surprises such as this are few and far between. Too often Nani and Ingimarsson trundle through tired and predictable pratfalls, their respective statuses inevitably, tiresomely see-sawing.
Admittedly, The Art of Dying did win loud sections of its audience round, but, for me, it was exasperatingly stale and stiff. Still, to quote Rudyard Kipling, if you can keep your head…