This was the other beautiful people. The ones turning up for the first show in a crowded lineup for the Sydney Fringe Festival. The ones who passed-up pink champagne at the official opening (if I’ve got it right), down the road apiece, to immerse themselves in real theatre, at capacious CarriageWorks. I was one of them, needless to say. We made the right decision. Well, a good one, anyway.

A Tiny Chorus is something else again. It puts me very much in mind of the Python cliche ‘and now for something completely different’. Not only different. But absurd. But also touching and beautiful. A meditation on love and friendship, between two veritable clowns; androgynous and, much of the time, utterly silent.

A spot comes up out of pitch black. Into it walks ‘Darren’, overalled, with red beanie and a very uncertain expression. The bottom lip almost trembles with anxiety. ‘He’ presents himself to the audience tentatively, trying on a few moves, to see what gets a reaction. By-and-by, ‘Ralph’ enters. By comparison, the slumped Darren is a stage veteran. Not only is Ralph also stricken by stage fright but, as we soon discover, ‘he’ has lost his voice. Which makes their first duet quite entertaining, since Darren is only singing backup.

All along, there’s a small red cupboard on castors lurking in the background. Our curiosity is appeased when Ralph wheels it into the light. Methodically, Darren removes two large dinner napkins and places them just so. Then a very large jar of gherkins is presented. The pair suit-up accordingly and delve deep, Darren removing a pathetically small pickle, while Ralph proudly produces a slightly larger one. Ralph quickly and crunchily disposes of his, while Darren’s tiny nibbles have barely made a dent in his. Impatiently, Ralph opts for another, upping the ante in size. Much time is spent on this cucumbered Commonwealth Games, to uproarious effect. But wait, Darren is visibly upset by Ralph’s insensitive green vegetable gluttony. So, in a move emblematic of the empathy and affection between them, Ralph returns with a sign: ‘gurkens are meant to be eaten slowly’.

Vignettes such as this, in lesser hands, might amount to nothing more than silliness. But it’s the level of performance that elevates this and other nonsense from the realm of mindless prime-time television comedy to something sublime, subtle, pointed, poignant and tender to the point of tear-jerking. Charlie Chaplin might’ve felt threatened. Yes, it’s that good. And the ‘aw’s and ‘ah’s you hear might just be your own. And what these girls (yep) do with raspberry jelly is not to be missed.

It’s just one of dozens of shows — not just theatre but cabaret, music, visual arts and more — as part of the revived Sydney Fringe Festival. A Tiny Chorus is surely one of the best of them.

The details: A Tiny Chorus plays CarriageWorks until September 25. The full schedule of Fringe shows can be found on the event website.