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reviews

Reviews for "Mump & Smoot Cracked"
Globe and Mail

Georgia Strait
Plank Magazine
Waterloo Region Record

Reviews for "Mump & Smoot in Flux"
Globe and Mail

Toronto Star
Now Magazine
Edmonton Journal
See Magazine
Calgary Herald

THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Saturday, June 1, 2002
By Michael Posner
Rating: ***

"Things that go bump in the starry night"

It might be an ordinary canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness, two old friends confronting the elements. Entrusted to the dubious care of Mump and Smoot, however - two of Canada's finest clowns - it becomes the camping experience from Hell. Or at least from Ummo, the fantasy parallel universe that the duo have more or less inhabited for the past 16 years.

Welcome to Flux, the latest - and possibly the last - professional outing for Michael Kennard and John Turner, which opened a four-week Toronto run on Wednesday night. Between them, Mump and Smoot have accumulated 32 years of theatrical know-how, and boy does it show. Flux is a clinic on clowning; if you're not laughing, it's only because you're otherwise engaged, trying to figure out how they do what they do. When things go awry, as they did twice on opening night, they know intuitively how to turn the moment to comic advantage.

The evening's plot framework itself is thin: they paddle into the auditorium in a polyethylene canoe that magically becomes their tent. Over the next 80 minutes (no intermission), they make camp, light fire, cook dinner and attempt to settle down for an evening under the stars. But on Ummo, as on Earth, there are ever-lurking hazards - spooky sounds, mosquitoes, accidental wounds, and most ominously, the great bear Boolawa.

Mump, the taller, more confident one, tries to allay anxious Smoot's gathering fears. In their native Ummonian language, one part twisted English to two parts gibberish, they rehearse how to ward off the dread beast: cross your arms and make no eye contact. Together, they sing a song designed to dispel Boolawa's evil spirit.

Of course, the exercise is futile. The bear, played with towering relish by Scott Macdonald, arrives, finding Smoot alone by the fire. A series of disasters ensue. I won't give away the game, except to say that the world of Mump and Smoot, which is also ours, is a frightening place: the threat is never entirely extinguished, even when you think it is.

Like Beckett's famous Waiting for Godot tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, the clowns are trapped in an existential zone - indeed, Campbell Manning's spartan campsite set is only slightly more inviting than the one naked tree that adorns the Beckettian stage - with only their essential humanity.

In this relationship, Kennard's Mump is the stern parent and teacher, Turner's Smoot the impish, chatty, irrepressible child. Kennard makes a tool of his deep, gravelly voice, by turns patient and admonishing. Turner is a physical marvel; every step and stance instantly projects his emotional state, which runs the gamut from exhilaration to terror. The duo's longtime associate Karen Hines provides nimble direction, while composer/designer Greg Morrison has penned a melodic but appropriately tension-raising score.

Mump and Smoot have announced that Flux will be their final show.

Regrettable, if true. But if true, they're going out at the top of their remarkable game.

 

THE TORONTO STAR
Thursday, May 30, 2002
By Susan Walker
Rating: ****

"Mump & Smoot still pack wallop"

If Flux is going to be the last mainstage show for Mump and Smoot, then they intend to out with a bang and a whimper. There is plenty of bang - literally - and more than a few whimpers of grief or remorse in this show, not all of them from the snivelling Smoot.

Michael Kennard and John Turner have been leading parallel lives as Mump and Smoot on the planet Ummo since 1986, regaling audiences through six full-length shows with their unique brand of clown - part horror, part slapstick, part pathos, underscored with an element of truth.

If they're ready to hang up their running shoes an horned headwear, who can blame them?

Flux finds them in the Ummo wilderness. Paddling past the audience (and possibly paddling some members of the audience), Mump and Smoot enter from a side door, fixing the illusion of a lake at the edge of the stage. For the rest of the show, this will be the running gag, the fourth wall becoming a shoreline that is frequently crossed, always with the reminder that whoever makes the passage must appear to be swimming.

Mump and Smoot's last show, Something Else, which ran in the same theatre in 1999, was notable for some major props and special effects. With Flux, the pair go low-tech, but with enough complications in the gear they bring on stage to guarantee a few extra laughs when something doesn't work as it's supposed to. After six show, it finally dawns on you that screw-ups are welcome opportunities for comic improv. Twice in last night's performance, the action stopped - once when Mump misplaced a bloodpack - and then restarted, in live-action rewind.

The lengthy conversion of the canoe into a tent and the paddles into a spit over the fire mostly occupies Mump, while Smoot entertains the audience with camping and fishing stories told in Ummonian gibberish. It's not long before the blood begins to flow, as Smoot cuts his hand while scaling a fish. And then the scary stuff begins. The mythic Boolawa (Scott Macdonald), subject of a rousing Ummonian campsong, appears in the form of a huge brown bear. Never mind that he looks more like a giant Gila Monster with hair, Smoot, left alone while Mump seeks refuge from his constant "yapping," is terrified. By the third appearance of Boolawa - clowns always love the rule of three - not only Mump, but some members of the audience have begun to believe in him.

As Flux descends into utter mayhem, Mump and Smoot descend into typical wrangling. Smoot's irrepressible enthusiasm dissolves into whining. Mump's exaggerated savoir-faire turns to anger as he stalks off stage, with shouts from the seats reminding him to swim.

One detects an extended note of sentimentality as Smoot sits alone, wondering if this is the end of their act. But no,they are reunited.

Long live Mump & Smoot.

 

NOW MAGAZINE
By Glenn Sumi
Rating: NNNN

"Clowns conquer"

Go and see Mump & Smoot in Flux and camping will never be the same again.

The demonic duo from the planet Ummo send up every "great outdoors" cliché in the book, and add a few frighteningly funny chapters of their own.

Entering from a side door in a hilariously lifelike boat, the horror clowns disembark onstage, attempt to set up a tent and then discover one problem after another - from a lack of a lighter (cue audience participation and one of the most surprising gags in the show) to the annoying reappearance of a vicious bear named, in their particular brand of gibberish, Boolawa (Scott Macdonald).

Working with a simpler set than in their last show, the clowns have carved out an archetypal tale of survival among the elements. Of course, as with all their works, the story is made funnier and emotionally richer by the character interactions, the annoyingly chatty and childlike Smoot (John Turner) constantly testing the limits of the bossy and seemingly dominant Mump (Michael Kennard).

Karen Hines' direction ensures that every bump in the night is felt, and Greg Morrison's soundscape - including a catchy song about the dreaded Boolawa - is as much fun as the performances.

Turner and Kennard are such deft improvisers that technical problems - and there were a couple on opening night - only mean opportunities for bigger unexpected laughs.

This is the clown duo's first show in nearly four years, and their appearances are always reassuring and (dare I say it?) therapeutic. Mump's ambivalent sighs and Smoot's high-pitched pleas and occasional growls speak directly to our primal fears and joys.

Praise be to Ummo: the clowns are back in town.

 

EDMONTON JOURNAL
March, 2002
By Liz Nicholls
Rating: ****

"A gruesome campout with the clowns from hell"

In one of the great entrances of the year, Mump and Smoot arrive onstage through a darkened Theatre Network, by canoe.

The sound of rippling water, the flash of paddles in the moonlight, the cry of the loon, the whispered Ummonian floating in the night air. ... Yes, the "horror clowns" from the planet Ummo have ventured once more unto the wilderness - in search of spiritual renewal? inspiration? a really big fish? The thing about camping holidays (and holy communion with nature generally) that makes a Mump and Smoot expedition into the Great Out doors such a delicious idea is the potential for turning tranquility into hell, on a dime. One mosquito in the tent, one Bic left at home, one grizzly bear with enormous teeth ... and, damn, the moment is lost.

The macabre duo, who speak Ummonian, a gibberish language that has hilarious sporadic affinities with English, have bonded with nature before (Mump And Smoot In Tense, 1997). This new show, premiering in the Theatre Network season, has a different flavour from that gore-splattered declension into chaos and hostility.

Mump (Michael Kennard), the taller, graver one, the one in charge, seems sadder somehow, troubled perhaps. He needs this vacation. Smoot (John Turner), more excitable, more guileless, more easily squelched than his confrere, seems almost relieved to be away from whatever passes for daily routine on Ummo. Being Smoot he can't resist trying more and more loon calls, ecstatic at being bilingual when the loon answers. But Mump's inevitable Shhh seems milder than usual, or Smoot anticipates it sooner. The same watchfulness inhabits the moment when Smoot with sinking heart realizes the lighter isn't in his backpack, and Mump, suddenly weary if not exactly conciliatory, grits his teeth, says it's OK and sets about finding one in the audience.

As they set up the tent, gregarious Smoot chatters away to the audience in top-speed Ummonian, confidentially recounting past camping disasters. And Mump's normal edge of eye-rolling exasperation is weirdly tempered by a look that hints at a certain "listen to yourself, Mump" fatigue with his role of being the doer, the arranger.

There is something to be resolved here: Mump and Smoot, who have been to hell and back together, with hold-overs in purgatory, these last dozen years, are in Flux. Their new show, directed by longtime associate Karen Hines, is framed by a quest that's more indefinable than usual, something you might want to call reassessment if you don't mind annoying people.

It sets the the post-apocalyptic Smothers Brothers up in a gothic landscape full of manly activity, from building a campfire (think about Mump and Smoot playing with matches and shudder) to impaling a creature and roasting it on a spit. And fishing! Now, there's a relaxing pastime, with Smoot's glee at catching and clubbing one turning to horror at the fact of death. They're enjoyably spooked by the woods, and instead of a campfire tale with a bogeyman, they share a dark vaudevillian ditty about Boolawa, the mythical bear who haunts the wilderness. In their musical theatre debut (music by Greg Morrison) Mump sounds a bit like Tom Waits.

There are solo philosophical ruminations. Smoot's delight in the beauty of the stars turns to the existential horror of being a small lone being called Smoot in a vast, empty and possibly meaningless universe. Mump has a crisis of faith, too; even his horn seems to be giving him a headache.

Typically they fall out over belief. Mump's irritable skepticism has to be readjusted when Boolawa actually shows up, and like every villain in a Mump and Smoot show, he's impressively huge and ferocious, not just some toy bear. Smoot actually rises to the occasion, which startles both clowns to no end. Yes, it's all good gory fun, calibrated to start small and mount, from the cut on the hand through decapitation and disembowellment, and an apology that is more momentous than either. The chemistry is winningly, and precisely, set forth in this delightful show.

And as usual, we get to join the fray, since part of the fun of any Mump and Smoot show is how quick Kennard and Turner are on their feet, and how playful they are about the whole theatrical illusion. A woman who left to pee will be regretting that last beer today, I should think, since she had to swim through the theatre.

 

SEE MAGAZINE
March 2002
Rating: ****

"Horror Clowns triumph over the wilderness"

As a kid, I was totally, wildly terrified of clowns, from their wide grease-paint grins down to the tips of their floppy shoes.

Not that I was alone. Loads of childeren are terrified of clowns, maybe because of a deep, dark subtext that's unexpectedly built into the persona. Something about the form leads to an almost instinctual deconstruction of the darker side of the human condition. (Stephen King's evil demon clown in It or the hedonistic Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons jump immediately to mind).

Another case in point: the work of Michael Kennard and John Turner, the talented clown duo know (and wildly loved by Edmontonians) as Mump & Smoot, the self-proclaimed "clowns of horror" currently playing in their brand-new full-length show called Flux.

Embracing the sinister underpinnings of Boxo-dom, the accomplished acting team (a perennial Fringe favourite since the late 80's) in their lastest romp riff off of the über-Canuck past-time of camping, taking a particularly perverse and blood-soaked swipe at what would seem to be a placid hobby.

Leave it up this horned couple to turn the banalities of starting a fire, setting up a tent and fending off mosquitos into hilarious physical/prop comedy fare. (And that's even before the fearsome "boolawa" shows up.)

Needless to say, this no Thoreau-esk Walden Pond sojourn. Almost the exact opposite: despite their desire for peace and quiet, the deeply frantic clown couple just can't stand any kind of stillness, and they sabotage the prospect of a restful forest visit whenever it threatens to emerge from the wilderness. Even Turner's seemingly innocent attempt at taking a philosophical break and contemplating his relative insignificance in the face of a star-rich wilderness night - no mean feat going this deep, given that the duo work almost entirely in gibberish - leads to him having scream-filled panic attack. What a fine theatrical jewel: think Campfire Girls meet Sartre.

What impresses the most is how endlessly literate this comedy team is (especially given how accessible and basic their humour might be - Commedia del Arte meets Barnum and Bailey) and how layered their performances end up being. How many troupes do you know who can deftly and seamlessly parody a children's song crossed with musical theatre and opera styling - without benefit of recognizable text?

 

CALGARY HERALD
March 17, 2002
By Bob Clark

"Camping was never like this"

Forget Flux - Michael Kennard and John Turner should call their new show Mump & Smoot Go Camping.

From the moment they paddle into the Martha Cohen Theatre until they disappear into their tent more than an hour later - in the wake of a dubiously graphic encounter with a Boolawa - Kennards's Mump and Turner's Smoot offer an inimitably comic take on making do in the wild unknown.

Billed as "clowns of horror who delight in the chaos of a nightmarish world," Canada's pre-eminent, and perhaps only, existential clown duo seems to have mellowed since its last appearance for ATP in Something Else two years ago.

Gone, for example is some of the satirical edge and grotesque anarchic nuttiness that characterized the earler work. Instead, in Flux we find our two hapless wanderers from the planet Ummo learning to get along in the kind of co-operative outdoor venture that most of us know all too well.

The patented Ummonian gibberish that passes between the two as they busy themselves copying with the forces of nature is as intelligibly conveyed as ever, thanks to the pair's mastery of mime and vocal inflection.

Uttering the lion's share of the show's nonsense in his little-boy voice as he scoots and waddles around in his baggy red shorts, Turner's Smoot presented a a lovable picture of arrested development. Kennard's Mump, the straight-man in a clown act reminiscent of famous comedy teams of the past, got some the evening's biggest laughs either through working the audience or berating it (a request for a lighter and the subsequent reminder to the person who volunteered it that he was moving through deep water was a particular favourite).

Through flawless timing and finely-calculated movement, Kennard and Turner showed once more how subtle and delightful the art of clowning can be.

The program notes somewhat portentously inform us that "Flux is a spiritually gothic horror clown play that deals with issues such as death, sadness, the environment, relationships, balance, fear and love."

That may all be true, but what really comes across is the fact that - inspite of a muddled and seemingly arbitrary ending - Flux is very funny and ingenious entertainment.

Its appeal lies in the fact that we can let ourselves go and feel like kids, laughing at its inspired silliness without feeling self-conscious about it.