Arts: Performance: The clowning chameleon

LEANDRE HACKNEY EMPIRE LONDON
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LEANDRE ENTERS, warily, looking like a personification of the Isaac Bashevis Singer line "My valise would not close, and I fastened it with string I had bought from the blind beggars". From his two suitcases he cautiously extracts props that seem encouraging but which plunge him deeper into terror and misery. A pair of umbrellas become wings that fail him, then a leaky boat that makes him the prey of a carnivorous clam, the transitions taking place with the deftness of a film montage.

A figure who would not be out of place in Bicycle Thieves, Leandre wears a hat that is pulled down and turned up, a jacket clutched tightly over his rounded shoulders, a waistcoat and cravat. He has no shirt. God knows what happened to the shirt. Though his appearance is worrisome, whimsical, pathetic, he doesn't live down to it: his clowning is too imaginative, his emotions too elemental for bathos.

Some of his material is rather elemental, too. No one who has spent Christmas in Leandre's native Barcelona, where bad children are given marzipan turds, will be surprised to see that one of his props is a toilet seat. It remains a toilet seat. Far from playing up to the audience, he regards it with annoyance or perplexity, responding to applause, for instance, by looking puzzled, turning round and clapping the backcloth.

Sometimes Leandre manages to triumph, if only over himself. As a cunning fish, he scoffs the bait of a fisherman, whom he also plays. The fish then uses the hook to clean his teeth, and, smirking, attaches it to an old shoe. Constructing a dance partner out of three long pieces of tape, Leandre gets so carried away that she becomes a crumpled mass of tangles. He mourns her, tries to bury the remains, but finds that, even in extremis, she won't let go.

Leandre was enjoyed by children as much as adults, but, should you take your sprogs, be prepared. Like the small girl behind me they may well ask, when Leandre pulls a condom over his head and prepares to dive through a slit in a red circle, "What's he supposed to be?"

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