Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Send in the clowns is surely one of the best songs ever written for a musical. Full of pathos and the inimitable cruelty of life.  It's the sort of song that you know intuitively is sad when you're young but you don't really know why. Then you get to be old and you see precisely why it's sad and it's all the more poignant. 

We trooped up to see A Little Night Music at Pitlochry Festival Theatre two weekends ago. It was a bit of a lovely day out and the show was pretty good. The main woman (Basienka Blake, I gather) was excellent and there were some delightful cameos. A real live band, apparently only consisting of three people  which is impossible to fathom, made a lovely sound. And the set was like Home Street firing on all cylinders and some. Like we could possibly make a set like that if we worked really hard for at least a year. It was pretty impressive. 

But the star of the show, in my not always humble opinion, was the song. And it spurred me on to look at the lyrics. Which, interestingly, aren't all that much to write home about.  

Isn't it rich?
Aren't we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid air. 
Send in the clowns.  

It's about a couple of one-time lovers and is sung by the girl of them. They had a sumptuous wonderful fling some years ago. He was married. She moved on. And they meet, by chance, years on. He's now married to his second wife. She's sort of single with "casual" men strewn in her wake. Their eyes meet. Th little sparkly frisson stomach leaping thing happens. They lay together. And subsequent conversation turns to how they should have been together by now. Had things been different. 

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours.
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No-one is there.  

The lyrics lack the superficial satisfactory rhythm and pattern you might see in a song. Which is Sondheim all over. And the 'tune' is the thing that makes this thing extraordinary. Haunting and wistful and lonely and sad and bemused. 

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There out to be clowns.
They're already here.

This is the proper heartbreak. She's brilliant at her job. She's got the hang of being alive and all the stumbles and tumbles that go with it. She thought she pretty much had the measure of people and how they mostly let you down but every now and again, utter serendipity means you're in the right place at just the right time. But it takes two - and she's only one - and it turns out that life was laughing at her (us) all along. 

I mean, I weep when I hear the tune anyway but this is the final sticking the knife in moment. So very beautifully observed by Mr S. (Or maybe I'm just bitter.)

This is one performance I very much wish I'd seen. Maybe next year. 


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