A clown’s version of 12 Angry Men results in wonderfully playful chaos

By Maddy Higginson

Reading up on Rudy & Cuthbert before their show at Southbank Theatre their physical comedy and clowning style was likened to Australian comedy duo Lano and Woodley. This honour must have been somewhat valid because when I took my seat, I realised that one half of Lano and Woodley was sitting three seats away. 

But as star-strucked as I was—and being the comedy nerd that I am, it was a lot—once Rudy and Cuthbert finally made the stage, to play the sweet, charming, oddly pedantic and very chaotic duo, I was hooked, and all else melted away. The show is set around Rudy and Cuthbert, played by Zelman Cressey-Gladwin and Toby Blome, as they prepare for their sudden performance of 12 Angry Men—they thought it was only the bump in—as they hurriedly try to set the play up with 80s style lighting montages, cutthroat audience auditions and slapstick prop design. 

Comedy is often bred from tension and conflict, but unlike a lot of double acts, there wasn’t much tension between them. They worked together, often in synchronicity, to set up the jokes, the tension actually coming from the relationship between them and the audience. They played the audience for laughs generated from awkwardness and frustration as they repeatedly failed at even the simplest tasks while getting their play together. This nervous energy was started early with a hilariously long pause at the beginning as we faced an empty stage. The laughs started from a feeling of anticipation through to awkwardness then from actual concern, as we began to wonder what happened to the show until Cuthbert came out, shocked that we were already there. They were risk-takers with their timings and repetition in order to evoke a range of feelings from the audience. They pushed us, taking the jokes to their edge and then some, until our discomfort came out in laughter. 

The audience was often involved throughout the show, the meta premise allowing for the fourth wall to be broken, and the audience to feel very much as a collective character within the play. Especially when we were scrutinised within our auditions to find the other 10 angry men, or in this case ‘people’. But like all good comedy double acts, they only had eyes for each other, so the 12 was whittled down to 2 as the audience breathed a sigh of relief mingled with disappointment that we didn’t need to join them out front, happy to watch them as the chaos around them built, and happy to stay out of the line of fire of flying props.  

I must admit though that even without reading the description, I would have noticed the likeliness of their physicality to Lano and Woodley, but they also made it very much their own. There is something comforting in this style of physical comedy, and no matter how silly the set-up, it often brings a joyous feeling of playfulness and fun that can brighten your day, the exaggerated facial and body movements, and the game of working out what was going on from just their actions on stage. Even arguments and fights become childlike and surreal. Every action had a naiveté and charm, and it was hard not to smile. It was so simple, yet they made so much laughter. 

In the end, Rudy & Cuthbert is about two clowns persistently failing to put on 12 Angry Men, but what they succeed at is creating a fun and charmingly clumsy show about two friends as they chaotically try to make something that people will enjoy. And not having seen the play 12 Angry Men, I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable version I have ever seen. And probably the only one to involve so much shaving cream and varieties of duct tape.

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