With 25 actors playing 43 parts, working with a controversial script and led by a blind juggler, Red Noses is certainly the show to end Concordia’s theatrical season.
Written by Peter Barnes, a British playwright with a penchant for biting satire and offensive scripts (he wrote a play about the Holocaust entitled Laughter!), Red Noses doesn’t stray from Barnes’ signature style.
The play follows a jovial priest and his group of clowns who travel from town to town in 1300s France to help those dying of the Black Plague get a last laugh. Part of the initial humour is the set of characters that make up the 11-member clown troupe: a mute poet, a horny nun, two one-legged sisters who dance with crutches and a stand-up comedian with a speech impediment, among others.
The play begins on a funny note, when the troupe of clowns is led by a blind juggler through a twisting forest to Avignon. Robert Montcalm, 21, plays one of the clowns who helps guide the disoriented juggler. “I provide a lantern for the blind guy, keeping track of where he is walking, but he is blind so he doesn’t need light anyway,” Montcalm said, laughing.
“It’s very Monty Python in a lot of its humour,” said the fourth-year theatre student. “Even the way the play opens directly references the search of the Holy Grail.”
22-year-old Molly Kidder can attest to the play’s sketch style humour. Kidder plays the wayward nun Marguerite, whose first appearance onstage is when two men are arguing over who will rape her first. The two men become so invested in the argument, they completely forget about the nun.
“I’m supposed to be raped. What of the raping?” says the nun amidst their bickering.
“She hasn’t got laid in a while,” said Kidder, who recognizes that the scenario can be perceived as offensive.
“It’s an intelligent and funny play and all the jokes are well justified,” said Kidder. “Humour that is based on intelligence can never be offensive.”
Red Noses mainly pokes fun at religion and class-based society, but Kidder notes that the jokes are meant to provide levity and not to offend. “Nothing really offends me and the play is pretty gentle with the beautiful parts of religion but critical of the structure of the church,” said Kidder.
Red Noses director and Concordia theatre professor Joel Miller is not worried about the script’s sensitive subjects. “I don’t care about offending anybody,” he said. “Being offensive doesn’t kill anybody.”
Miller noted that the villains in the play are the aristocracy, the pope and the bishop, which he believes students will enjoy. “The anti-authoritarian aspect will appeal to students, and it appeals to me and I’m far from being a student.” Miller said. “Barnes’ philosophy of democracy is clear: the basic theme is that of equality and anti-aristocratic society.”
The actors are encouraged to improvise and step outside of the confines of the script, which Miller said keeps the rehearsal process fresh. “We are having a ball during rehearsals.” Miller said. “I still find it funny five weeks into rehearsal.”
Red Noses is one of the largest productions to be put on by Concordia’s Theatre Department.
“With 25 actors and another 20 designers and over 120 props, the play has more elements than a professional show,” said stage manager Kate Hagemeyer.
Miller said Red Noses isn’t performed often because most North American theatre companies don’t have the money or the resources to put on such a large production.
Red Noses is so grand, that the Concordia’s Theatre Department has decided to house the show in the D.B. Clarke Theatre as opposed to the much smaller Cazalet Studio where these types of performances are usually held.
“The program hasn’t really been using the D.B. Clarke,” said Kidder. “This is [our department’s] first big show in that space, so this one is definitely intense.”
Red Noses plays at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, in the basement of the Hall Building, April 14 to 17 at 8 p.m. and April 17 and 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults. For more information: 514-848-2424 ext. 4742