Joseph Grimaldi - Joey - Slapstick!

My name is Sue Curtis, writer, director and producer of Slapstick! , a new play which is premiering as part of the Bath Comedy Festival 2024 in seven performances from April 14-20th in the Old Theatre Royal.

As an introduction, before we begin our publicity drive on March 1st, I thought it might be fun to write an occasional blog during February to introduce the play, the characters, or anything else that comes to mind!

General information about the play, and booking arrangements, are available here

A slapstick

We all know what ‘Slapstick’ is; a certain kind of knockabout physical comedy which is everywhere in films, plays, television, and, above all, pantomimes.
But the term originally applied to a simple piece of hinged wood, which first appeared in the Commedia dell’ Arte in the 16th century.

Harlequin, the hero of the Commedia, when beating the well-padded bottoms of clowns, used an instrument called a slapstick. It was a double wooden rounded paddle, and when he hit anyone with it, the two sides banged together and made a huge noise, which made everything much funnier for the audience as the clown roared around clutching his posterior and jumping with pain.

Harlequin, the hero of the Commedia dell’ Arte

Later, the slapstick became thinner and was used much more elegantly as a sword-like weapon in fake fights..

Gradually the name of the instrument became the name of the comedy; its closest association nowadays is with the magnificent comedians of silent films, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin.

(Don’t miss the Slapstick Festival coincidentally going on in Bristol just before ours, also called ‘Slapstick’)

Today slapsticks are so common you can buy them online; still the same hinged two pieces of wood – but now more usually used as a musical instrument, sometimes called a clapper.

The invention of the modern English pantomime, often attributed to Grimaldi, through his creation of Joey the Clown, has kept the spirit of Slapstick alive, and so that was one good reason for the title of this play.
But another was less obvious.

This is a play about the man, as well as Joey the clown.
Grimaldi was beaten and injured by the cruel regime inflicted on him by his father when forced to act as a child, and that, combined with the insane risks that were his signature during his adult performances as a clown, crippled him so that by the end of his life he could not walk without crutches.

Slapstick was all too appropriate.

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