The Hats of Mr. Zenobe


64 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-921833-53-9
DDC C812'.54





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is assistant director of libraries at the University of
Saskatchewan, and président de la Troupe du Jour, Regina Summer Stage.


The basic device of the clown is to construct his own theatre “while
making small talk with the audience.” The apparent spontaneity of most
clown theatre disguises the arduous development of personality and
dialogue that results from countless interactions between the clown and
his or her public. The Hats of Mr. Zenobe has profited from this kind of
development in the creative explorations and “finds” of Robert
Astle, an international clown and mask artist and cofounder of Small
Change Theatre.

What distinguishes The Hats, however, is the fact that it is based on
the life and “outsider art” (an amazing collection of hats and found
objects now housed in Lausanne’s Musée de l’Art Brut) of a real
person. Vahan Poladian was an Armenian exile who suffered frightful
human indignities but saved himself from despair “by his own
deliberate acts of creation”: a twice-daily parade of hats and
characters on the streets outside an asylum in St. Raphael, France.
Astle imbues his biographical one-man show with linguistic inventiveness
and a cornucopia of directions for production.

The sorry state of our current world affairs, alas, makes the
observations of Mr. Zenobe both timely and universally poignant. As he
remarks in one scene, “Note that sometimes we are afraid to open our
doors in the 20th century.”


Astle, Robert., “The Hats of Mr. Zenobe,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,