Dalston: Send in the Clowns

Happy and sad, a celebration and a mourning all at the same time.

Every February, not far from the high street in Dalston, a highly unusual church service takes place. It’s a memorial service, but rather than dressing in black, this congregation sport every colour in the rainbow – this is the annual Joseph Grimaldi Memorial Service.

During mass this most famous of clowns, whose actual grave is to be found in an unglamorous park next to a Peabody Trust estate near Kings Cross, is celebrated by contemporary exponents of the art he is credited with pioneering. Many of the techniques of modern clowning are attributed to Grimaldi.

A tough childhood is thought to be the reason behind his own brand of sad clowning; some say that in a pun on his own name he declared he was “Grim all day”, while others say – because of his demeanour – this moniker was thrust upon him by satirists.

But when you look around at the painted faces filling the pews while the main reading is performed as a series of magic tricks – the religious message not at all diluted – one thing is certain: this is Hackney’s most colourful and esoteric church service.

Unless, of course, you know different…?

For more information on Grimaldi, click here

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