Thursday 25 May 2017

Clowns bring a smile to us fools in love

Struggling with affairs of the heart? It's time for the big-top stars to make an appearance, say John Masterson

John Masterson

I was listening to the iPod on "shuffle" while out walking, and two of my favourite songs came up within the hour. Both of them mention clowns.

I have always had a weakness for clowns. It was a term of affectionate correction used in our house. It implied silliness without any badness. And I can still recall my childish excitement on going to see a circus with Coco, who was billed as the funniest clown in the world. Even as a child, I thought that a bit strong --but the event is still up there in my all-time memories.

The first song was a Tom Waits one, but it was the Juliet Turner and Brian Kennedy version of I Hope that I Don't Fall in Love with You and I have always much preferred their pace. But Waits's line, "If you sit down with this old clown, and take that frown and break it...", as he looks at the woman nearby captures all those feelings of been there, done that, and about to do it all over again. You just hope it works out for them this time.

Waits's clown is of the silly-fool type. I also love the court-jester type. Some years back, another great clown, Brendan O'Carroll, took me to see Cirque du Soleil. I was blown away by the mixture of skill and fun. Brendan knows the feeling of waves of laughter, and also loves clowns. He names the dotty psychiatrist in Mrs Brown's Boys "Clune". It has an affectionate, harmless ring to it and he, of course, makes the "clown" pun that we were all thinking. It is nice to see that Brendan's son, Danny, has that same clownish ability to make people laugh, just by looking at him, on stage.

There is a wonderfully colourful picture of a clown painted by Camille Souter. It hangs in Stathams Restaurant in the Pembroke Hotel in Kilkenny. I make sure to sit where I can see it. It always puts me in good humour.

The second song that came up was, of course, Send in the Clowns, which Stephen Sondheim wrote for A Little Night Music. While these clowns are not circus clowns, the reference is theatrical as in, if the show is not going well you send in the clowns.

In the hit musical, convoluted relationships where people are with the wrong partners go through various stages, displaying bad timing on everyone's part. When Desiree was a young actress, she had her pick of men and rejected Fredrik, who was in love with her. Years later, they meet again. He is in a bad marriage to a younger woman. They sleep together and she realises he is the man she always wanted. She has a daughter with him, Fredrika, but he does not know that. He rejects her proposal as he is still up in the air in love (me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air) with his young wife. Desiree then sings the famous song.

Many of us are fools in love, but as Sondheim remarked "Send in the Fools" doesn't have the same ring to it. Hopefully, more of us are clowns. You know something is going wrong in a relationship when she stops laughing at your jokes.

The line that always gets me is when Desiree, with a mixture of anger and regret, sings "I thought that you'd want what I want! Sorry my dear." She realises all that she has messed up because of impetuous youth and mourns "losing my timing this late in my career".

Needless to say, fate will take another twist when Fredrik's wife leaves him for a younger man. His son! There is a happy ending.

Sondheim said the whole song came together for him when he got the great clown line: "Don't bother, they're here." That would be us.

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