MAT RICARDO: THREE BALLS AND A GOOD SUIT
Tales From the Life of a Jaded Novelty Act
My one man show premiered at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Fringe. Here are some collected reviews.
"Five stars for a juggler? I assure you, no mistake. And the prejudice which makes such acclaim seem surprising is just one theme of this wryly reflective show, which mixes envy-inspiring physical skill with a well-told, deeply personal tale.
There’s no shortage of street performance in Edinburgh just now – but up close and personable, Ricardo demonstrates a subtlety of wit and technique which just wouldn’t work among the mayhem of the Royal Mile. In this intimate venue with a captive crowd, there’s no need to climb a ladder and juggle a chainsaw; but his audience gasped just as loudly when he bounced a teacup off his shoulder, landing it neat and unbroken back on the tray. He throws cigar boxes around, whips tablecloths away, and balances this and that on his nose. It’s impressive, it’s often hilarious… and if it were all he did, it would still be a fine way to spend an hour.
But – while you’ll surely be impressed by his mastery of his craft – that’s not what makes this show. No, its true strength lies in its storytelling, looking back over a life spent perfecting this least-understood physical art. Like all street performers, Ricardo knows how to keep a patter going – and his travels have given him plenty of material to share. In what other context could you name-drop the Krankees, before launching into a story about an escapologist being carted away? Be warned, though: while it might sound like this is a good show to take the kids to, both the language and content are distinctly for grown-ups.
And there’s something else grown-up about the monologue. It’s infused with a bittersweet sadness – a reflection on a career which, as it grew more successful, demanded more and more time away from the things which make life truly worthwhile. You’re a fool if you believe every anecdote you hear in this show, but the darker parts of Ricardo’s story must surely be for real. It’s disarmingly candid and, at times, painfully poignant – but like the showman he is, Ricardo always has a joke standing by to defuse the tension and lift the mood.
When he performs, Ricardo says, he has just one aim: to send the audience away saying there’d been something in his show they’d never seen before. Well, you know what? It worked. For the first time, I looked at a juggler and saw what he really is: a skilful and committed artisan, the equal of any of the high-falutin’ actors I’ll rub shoulders with this Fringe. And the bonus of an hour spent with Ricardo? I laughed myself silly too."
"A pleasant Tuesday night out, and not all of it spent at the Pleasance; part pleasure, part work (although the work was unpaid, and pleasurable). At 7.30, having shared fatigue around the kitchen table with Richard Herring, I rolled up at the Three Sisters on Cowgate to see gentleman juggler and AIOTM photographer Mat Ricardo recount his life in street performing and variety, illustrated with some truly astounding feats, many of which I’ve seen, filmed, but never up close like this.
His show Three Balls And A Good Suit is quite a change for him, as it involves more talking and less throwing things up in the air. But the linking passages about his life on the cruise ships (“trapped on a floating prison with two and a half thousand cunts”) and on the cobbles of Covent Garden – as well as hanging out with Monkey off of Monkey in Tokyo and appearing on the bottom of the bill with Bradley Walsh and the Krankies – are delivered with panache and good humour. The space he’s in is clearly way too low-ceilinged for a juggling act, but Mat adapts to survive, and occasionally steps offstage so as to create an extra few inches. After 20 years in the trade, his juggling is predictably excellent. A small audience (“quality not quantity”) couldn’t have been more responsive, clapping and whooping and gasping on cue. Some of this stuff is mind-blowing, not least the cigar box routine, and Mat’s piece de resistance – which he rightly saves for the end – removing a tablecloth and, uniquely, putting it back on, without unsettling a single cup or plate."
"The gentleman juggler may not be a common character here in the 21st century, but the form is most certainly not dead. Mat Ricardo in Three Balls and a Good Suit seeks to emulate the great W.C. Fields, along with a class of jugglers who were not circus performers, daredevils or freaks, but gentleman. They entertained, told stories with bravado and class, and, yes, did a trick or two along the way. I can’t say how Ricardo stacks up to Fields, et al, but his stories ring with bravado and his juggling tricks are impressive with a touch of class. While he tells the story of how his career as a juggler has adversely affected his personal life, he weaves a variety of tricks. He claims to be the only one who 'puts the tablecloth back on', and, indeed, he does. He also executes a delightful and rarely performed hat and cane act that he says is 'too subtle for street performance'. Lucky for us, it works beautifully in a dimly-lit bar.
Had I paid a reasonable admission, I would have been satisfied and charmed. That it was a free fringe show made it feel more like a diamond in the rough. Even when performing more typical juggling acts like balancing cigar boxes (we learn not to call them bricks), Ricardo adds something a little less ordinary, and a little classier. In this instance, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the wine glass."
Running time: 1 hour
Suitable for small-mid size theatres or large cabaret venues