This Way Up – Work begins on BoxLess Theatre’s ‘Ballooniana!’

A young man is looking at laundry drying over the fireplace.

There’s a breeze. 

There’s a whoosh.

Somewhere a light goes on.

The shirt – because maybe it’s a shirt – billows. The hot air. It rises.

And, yes, somewhere a light goes on….

Except they’re not a young man.

She’s a young woman. 


A clown. 


Maybe a clown in a raggedy tail-coat is watching laundry drying over a fireplace. And we’re in France. And somewhere there’s the sound of an accordion. And somewhere a skinny man in a hat is plucking strings on an old guitar. 


BoxLess Theatre has just begun work on our new production – ‘Ballooniana!’ 

It’s the story of the invention of the hot air balloon. 

Maybe you know, but maybe you don’t, that there were two brothers, two French brothers, the Montgolfier Brothers, and they invented the thing. The thing that went up.

But we didn’t want to tell a story that could just be told by middle aged men. Any old middle aged men.

 We didn’t want to do a biography. We wanted to do something theatrical. Something musical. Something a little bit more fun for a true story that involved…

  1. A Sensible Brother
  2. A Less Sensible Brother
  3. Flying Human Beings
  4. The King of France
  5. A Flying Duck and Rooster (okay, fine, maybe that’s not that remarkable, you say)
  6. A Flying Sheep (Ah yes, right, good, you have my attention, you say.)

So yes, nothing boring, nothing ordinary, nothing run of the mill.

This is a story that needs….

  1. A squeezebox
  2. A guitar
  3. Lots of red balloons
  4. Some clowns

But you ask – “Why now? Why a story of working together, overcoming loss, reaching for something impossible, unattainable?”

You don’t need to ask that, if you don’t mind me saying. We need to hear that story, I think. We need to hear it now.

We always needed to hear it sometimes. That sometimes life is going to be like having a great idea, then fits and starts, maybe it’s on again, maybe it’s off again, and maybe somewhere along the line somebody precious is going to vanish like breath on a mirror. Kicked the bucket. Gone. 

But that maybe, if we hold on tight and all the blueprints were sketched out just right, and just when the wind was sitting in the right direction, then maybe…

Maybe we’ll hear it now. The story.

Why clowns?

Because there’s something French about clowns. Telling tales, telling truths, telling truth to power, telling the truth to the King. And there is a King, I must have mentioned that. Oh, yes, there’s a King alright.

Truth to tell, in 2017 I went to the Science Museum and there was a small exhibition in the corner called ‘Ballooniana’ (no exclamation mark back then, you see) – and I read about these Two Brothers, and their idea that something, somewhere, someone could go …. up.

And around that time I worked a bit on a play about Vaudeville in London, and the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crown (Wait, scratch that, reverse it) and all these ideas were ticking and turning around the same cog – The Brothers, The Stage, The King and the Crowd, the Balloon, and the Facepaint, and France, and two raggedy tail-coats.

And I say a lot when I’m talking about this sort of nonsense (when somebody listens) that maybe two ideas that are ticking around are actually the same idea. And this is one of those. Because the Brothers are doing Vaudeville, front of the cloth, and the Clowns are drawing up blueprints for the great big balloon, and you see that blue sky up there? Sooner or later, someone’s going to go up…

So roll up, roll up. 22 September – 1 October 2022. Not that long. But the show’s in town, and a couple of strange, black-suited showmen have a story to tell, a story worth hearing. 

And it won’t take long, and it won’t waste your time, and there’s a tale to tell.

So yes – Roll up. Roll up.

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