Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown – The Kids’ Show
Philip Burgers & Stuart Bowden @ Le Cascadeur
5:00pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012
It’s gorgeous afternoon to be awake, and I’m not even mildly annoyed when I arrive at Le Cascadeur to discover a queue already snaking around the building. I bask and chat with Bryan and DeAnne and Scout as we wait for the doors to open; I spot one of the guys from The Lost Rung and quite obviously rave a little too enthusiastically. And I watch the spruikers.
Now, I normally feel bad (or, occasionally, anger) for the Garden spruikers – today, however, I wanted to be one, because the opportunities were almost too good to pass up. Indeed, the main spruiker for Le Cascadeur this afternoon just walked around in front of the venue yelling “brown” repeatedly into a megaphone every three or four seconds… and it worked. The line grew and – even better – started chirping “brown” to itself over and over and over again, which created a really silly atmosphere before the show even started.
Le Casca is packed; I end up sitting at the very edge of a row with a great view that was only occasionally interrupted by the excitable child behind me hitting me in the shoulder or head as he “cheered” (or, more accurately, flailed his limbs around in appreciation). And as we all settled, all we could see was Stuart Bowden in his tiger suit, sitting onstage, gently strumming a ukelele; there’s also a large activity map hanging at the back of the stage, and a large shopping bag.
As soon as the doors close and the house lights drop, the bag starts twitching: slowly, Dr Brown undoes the zip and clambers from the bag. Instantly, he’s won the children over with his wacky demeanour and rubbery expressions; then he’s playing with them, getting them involved in the performance with no tangible effort. Dr Brown turns to the activity board, and the children spot the bright icons and start screaming out suggestions straight away: bike! golf! baby! tennis! song!
“Breakfast” is a hit, as a collection of edibles are mixed into something inedible… then eaten; the sports are all suitably madcap, with the Singing Tiger or members of the audience roped in for play; “Baby” sees Brown produce baby doll, which then squirts all over himself and the crowd; and then there’s “Song”.
Dr Brown produces a microphone, taps it a few times to make sure it’s on, and then – in a move familiar to fans of his “regular” shows – bops himself in the forehead with it. It’s a silly physical gag, but it gets the audience pealing laughter as he repeats the move again and again, modulating the timing of impact for maximum comic effect. Eventually he tires of the self abuse; he summons a man from the audience and offers him the microphone to sing… whereupon the man proceeds to bop Brown in the forehead with the mike.
The audience cracks up. Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger crack up far harder, tears of surprise and laughter running down Brown’s face as he mock-throttles the man.
Eventually, after riding a tiny BMX bike off into wings of the venue, Dr Brown waves us goodbye; the kid behind me whacks me a few more times out of joy, and screams in my (good) ear for good measure. The audience – young and old alike – leave Le Cascadeur absolutely bubbling.
I’ve always said that Philip Burgers is an exceptional clown, but I was amazed at how effortlessly he manipulated the audience: there’s something innately engaging about his mere presence that managed to get all the children on-side. Bowden’s Singing Tiger, only occasionally a minor enabler in these proceedings, is still a wonderful character, and his musical accompaniment is gentle and, surreally, bordering on melancholic… but it still feels perfect for the performance, gelling with the amazing character that Burgers has created. Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown was a masterful, but supremely silly demonstration of how utterly enjoyable simple buffoonery can be.