THERE'S a lot more to clowning than meets the eye. It's not simply a case of putting on a silly expression, a mad hat, or some over-the-top make-up and throwing yourself around a stage – although those elements can usually be found in all the best clown shows.
Yes, the art of buffoonery is a complex affair, as the inimitable Le Navet Bete troupe will confirm.
The Exeter-based four-man fun team – Al Dunn, Nick Bunt, Matt Freeman and Dan Bianchi – aided and abetted by their producer and technician Alex White, have won rave reviews with their touring shows over the years and have now been awarded £34,000 by Arts Council England to develop one of their most popular – Once Upon a Time in a Western – into a bigger production.
The show, directed by John Nicholson of theatre company Peepolykus, premieres with an outdoor performances on September 22 as part of the Unexpected Festival, before a run at Exeter Phoenix from September 24 to 26. It will then embark on a tour around the South West that includes Barbican Theatre Plymouth, Bristol's Circomedia and The Egg, Bath.
It's a wild, new adventure for all ages and promises to take audiences on an interactive, fast-paced journey across the Wild West as the town of Kidneystone is threatened by outlaw and all-round bad guy Loco Pedro who is secretly in cahoots with the Mayor to rob the town's train of all its gold.
The show integrates live music, physical comedy, audience participation, pistols at dawn and epic bar fights.
The project has also received financial support from Exeter City Council and, as part of this support Le Navet Bete, will be performing material, inspired by their new Western indoor show, throughout the Unexpected Festival. Alongside their performances they will also be working with educational establishments and other participants to create 'pop-up' performances during the festival also inspired by the classic cinematic western genre.
One of the company, Al Dunn, said they were delighted to be involved in Exeter's newest festival.
"The festival will be a great way to promote the crossover from outdoor street theatre to indoor theatre," he said. "And we hope to bring new audiences to The Exeter Phoenix (who are co-producing the indoor show) when we premier the indoor show the following week.
"We're over the moon to have received this funding to develop our most ambitious project yet. The support of Arts Council England means that in addition to us being able to invest in creating really high quality work, we'll also be able to tour it more extensively, reaching much wider audiences.
"Our ambition, after first premiering the work in Exeter, is to tour the show nationally, and hopefully really help demonstrate that new and exciting work is being developed in the region."
Paul Goddard Arts Council England's South West senior manager said they were pleased to be supporting the group, and the festival.
"I'm particularly pleased because this is another step in the emergence of a diverse and vibrant theatre ecology in Exeter," he added.
Le Navet Bete – which translates roughly as "the stupid turnip" – formed when they were studying on the Plymouth University theatre and performance course, when it was based at Rolle College in Exmouth.
When their clowning idea began to blossom they established their four distinctive and individual characters and these have endured, while they have continued to develop their ideas and expertise, and expand their fanbase which now stretches as far as Mexico.
Once Upon a Time in a Western will be performed at the Unexpected Festival in Exeter on September 22, and at Exeter Phoenix from September 24 to 26. Details: 01392 667080. The Unexpected Festival runs from September 15 to 22. Details: www.unexpectedexeter.co.uk