The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, By Andrew McConnell Stott

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The Independent Culture

The story of a top clown beset by melancholia written by a former stand-up comedian who has "twice sought help for depression" might sound a singularly resistible volume, but you turn the pages entranced by a dazzling yarn.

Stott uses his portrait of Joe Grimaldi (1778-1837) to convey the hypnotic kaleidoscope of early pantomime. Aged seven, Joe was playing a monkey in an act of his psychopathic father, who would swing Joe by a chain around his head. He was lucky to break only a collarbone.

The training laid the foundation for a career of acrobatics and transfigurations – his appearance as a "vegetable man" may have inspired Frankenstein. Byron, who tricked Grimaldi into eating apple pie with soy sauce, plays a cameo.