Pss Pss, Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London


Simone Fassari and Camilla Pessi, the award-winning double act Baccala Clowns, bow in triumph because they’ve managed to juggle a single apple. Then they flip coolly through challenging acrobatics, Pessi poised on one hand on Fassari’s head. Pss Pss is a children’s show that works for its young audience, and for adults too.

Presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, Pss Pss is Baccala Clowns’ first show for theatres rather than circus, developed with director Louis Spagna. Fassari and Pessi present themselves as an old-fashioned music hall act. He has a silent-movie look, with pale face and slicked-back hair. Pessi, in a bright assortment of tights and bloomers, has a ready pout and an air of wide-eyed surprise. Their reactions are precise and unexpected.

As acrobats, they swing from slapstick to beautiful poise, with sidelong glances and competitive sidling. Pessi clambers up Fassari, wobbling as she stands on his shoulders, then his head. Holding his hands, she unfolds into a handstand on his upraised arms. Back on the ground, she puffs out her cheeks goofily, in the face they both pull to encourage each other.

Both characters are single-minded and easily distracted: they’re completely focused on something, until their attention switches onto the next idea. When Fassari starts to eat a banana, Pessi watches with greedy calculation, waiting her moment to pounce. He gets it back from her by distracting her attention, pointing out a fixed trapeze overhead. The trouble is, he can’t look away either. How do you eat a banana while gazing open-mouthed at something directly above you?

They can’t reach the trapeze by jumping or balancing, so Pessi and Fassari get hold of a stepladder – only to be distracted by that. The steps rock, snap shut on them, even become a musical instrument when they blow through its hollow rungs. The ladder still isn’t high enough to reach the trapeze, until Simone climbs it with Pessi on his shoulders.

On the trapeze, they launch into heart-in-mouth slapstick, a very funny catalogue of tangled limbs, missed catches, last-minute rescues and long-suffering glances to the audience. Getting down is even harder than getting up. Simone leaves Pessi hanging, stuck in the air long enough to get bored, heave a put-upon sigh and cross one leg tidily over the other. In mid-air, the characterisation is as deft as it is on the ground.