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The world of clowning is complex, embracing fear and delight, the macabre and the sugary sweet. Claire Barthomolew, co-creator of The Long Pigs, part of The Sydney Festival (8-26 January), also a clown doctor at a Melbourne hospital, makes the distinction that working with kids is very different from The Long Pigs.

“This is a show for adults,” she says, and the clowning is part of the possibly longer tradition of the creepy side of the art. “I’m scared of scary clowns, the ones with wigs who get in your face.”

The Long Pigs is without dialogue, incorporating Buster Keaton-style pranks, and highly choreographed. Barthomolew and fellow company members of WE3 co-devised a dystopian tale about black-nosed clowns and the mysterious origin of red noses – sans the clowns. The black-nosed clowns are emblematic of distrust and suspicion of strangers, including their own red-nosed cousins.

“It’s a larger element rife in society and today in Australia,” says Barthomolew. “It’s a deep, dark engrossing story with humour. People start laughing in an evil pact with this trio and become complicit in the darkness.”

The Longs Pigs was a hit in Melbourne, and Barthomolew relished the experience of audience reactions. “Audiences leaned forward with delight and leaned back with horror. We were repelling and drawing in people.” (OA)

Jan 15-18, Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, $35, www.sydneyfestival.org.au