An ageing clown pushes a shopping trolley before the expectant gazes of the audience. Half an hour later it is difficult to not cry out to this clown in his moment of weakness. In Voice Without Words, written and directed by Tom Tolond, nothing is spoken because nothing needs to be said. Through his charming interaction with a temperamental wireless and an extensive array of outer garments, the clown (Nick Jeffrey) shows his audience all they need to know.
Hunched and dejected the clown resigns himself to his tranquil surroundings after discovering that his abilities to entertain may have lapsed slightly, however the wireless has other plans. Shifting from classic to classic, it not only evokes memories but also acts as that reassuring pat on the shoulder for the clown when all appears hopeless. It is not long however, before this noise is no longer welcome and he wields a hammer in hope of some silence! The faultless sound management in this opening (Dave Porter), combined with a first glimpse into Jeffrey’s repertoire of facial expressions, makes for an introduction which is pleasantly light in tone.
From a mother to a lover in a change of an overcoat, Jeffrey skilfully, and humorously, portrays the clown’s relationship with the women in his life. His physical performance is sustained right down to the last, placing the focus on the smaller nuances of these relationships, the toffee penny or the pink carnation, which render the difficulty of the goodbye all the more believable. The khaki of the final overcoat provides the explanation for these farewells and places the clown on a battlefield which he has evidently struggled to escape.
The actions of the clown are underscored throughout by an appropriate selection of music and sound effects; however the energy of Jeffrey’s performance never falters. His expressions and physical appearance are perfectly timed and executed to induce a burst of laughter before a subtle alteration of an eyebrow or a lost gaze brings a sombre hush over the audience once more.
Devoid of a single murmur, Tolond’s writing asks an audience to focus solely on an illustration of the clown’s life as portrayed by the actor. Whilst the concluding inspirational speech provides a fitting ending for a performance which promotes the necessity of hope, it is the tinny words of the wireless, rather than the silent anguish of the clown, that hold the floor at the most emotive point of the performance.
Nevertheless, Voice Without Words engages throughout. There is much beauty in the silence of the lone performer who under Tolond’s direction expresses moments of sentiment that are beyond the realms of the spoken word.
All Images by Nick Barker
See Voice Without Words in the Nottingham New Theatre Studio, Monday 10th December at 6pm. Email [email protected] for tickets.