REVIEW: Slava Snowshow

07
December
2017

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REVIEW: Slava’s Snowshow

Mayflower Theatre 5 December 2017

David Cradduck asks: “Eccentric? Bizarre!” (with apologies for spoilers).

There is something a bit creepy about clowns. It could have something to do with the exaggerated make-up and expressions but whereas one clown in a circus act is usually the fool, the jester, the funny man with huge shoes, when the stage is filled with rather macabre clowns the whole thing takes on a different, slightly sinister, dimension.

Slava Polunin, Artistic Director of the Saint Petersburg Russian State Circus, created his ‘Snowshow’ some 25 years ago as an example of what he describes as ‘eccentric pantomime’, starring Assissiaï – a little clown in yellow overalls, outsized red slippers designed to portray the many facets of life and clownery: poetry, sadness, humour, pathos, fastidious funny-walk nonsense. Supported by a troupe of equally bizarre clowns of different heights and individual characters, the Snowshow is a series of intriguing sketches employing mime, music, a lot of smoke, dramatic lighting but very little narrative.

There are three showstopping features, on a huge scale: firstly (spoiler alert) the end of the first half is drawn to a rather abrupt end by the dragging of a huge cobweb across everyone lucky/unlucky enough to be in the front stalls – the massive mess is moved backwards by the audience who then spend the interval picking bits of cobweb out of their hair and clothing. OK if you are not too squeamish about cobwebs or of a claustrophobic nature. Oh, and the clowns then walk about on the auditorium seats in the interval, mingle with the audience and squirt quite a few people with water and dump confetti on them.

The second main feature is a HUGE snowstorm of confetti-like tickertape, blown with great force into the audience (remember to keep your mouths shut at this point) accompanied by a blinding battery of lights from the stage. I have to say that this takes audience participation, willingly or otherwise, to a new extreme. I was picking bits of confetti out of my clothing and hair for hours afterwards.

The final spectacle is actually the line-up when for some odd reason the yellow clown removes his hair and the green clowns stand around a little aimlessly whilst fifteen foot diameter balloons roll out into the auditorium to be bounced around by the audience. Kids love this bit, but what they make of the rest of the show is anyone’s guess; judging by some comments from previous audiences of this touring production, a few didn’t sleep very well afterwards.

The Independent says “it restores childish wonder in adults”. That may be, as it is difficult not to be moved by the simplicity, the theatrical experience and the deliberate foolery; but I do wonder how suitable this show might be for those still enjoying the innocence of childhood. A spectacle it might be, but as far as family Christmas entertainment goes, I am guessing most kids might prefer Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (coming soon to the Mayflower 15 Dec – 7 Jan and starring Craig Revel Horwood).

I am sure that as a non-intellectual and rather traditional theatre lover, some of the philosophical and deep-meaning aspects of Slava’s creation is lost on me.

He says of his creation “Assissiaï ceased to be startled by the paradoxes of the outer world and almost entirely dissolved in the paradoxes of the world inside him”. Am I the only one who doesn’t understand a word of that statement; am I missing a great chunk of artistic understanding or is this a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?

I cannot believe I am the only one to be disappointed by some of the thin, but rather drawn-out sketches and the feeling that I was at a huge kids’ party where the spectacular distractions of giant cobwebs, bucket loads of ‘snow’ and huge floating balloons just mask a rather mediocre show? There are some funny moments, for sure, and many that are equally poignant. One sketch stands out for me: the interaction between Assissiaï and a coat and hat on a hat stand. Part puppetry, part ventriloquism, part clowning.

The make-up is amazing and enhances the subtle facial expressions, although I wonder how these came across for those in the Upper Circle, some distance from the stage. The music, including some Vangelis and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is sometimes mesmeric and soothing, at times too loud and a little distorted.

All in all, I guess I must be out on a limb here – after all, the show has played to hundreds of thousands of people. It has returned time and time again over a quarter of a century to venues in 30 or so countries (no need for translations at least) and has a cabinet full of awards for ‘best family show’, ‘contribution to culture’ and even Barcelona’s ‘Golden Nose Award’ of the International Clown Festival 1995.

But theatre is theatre and to appreciate it one must first understand it. I admit that I really didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in this show. Maybe some of it got lost in translation?

‘First impressions count’ may be a cliché but as far as entertainment goes it is spot on. If you fail to be entertained (and apart from the three big spectacles, our audience’s applause was a little subdued to put it mildly) then in my book the show is the weak point, not the recipient.

As for the kids – my advice is take them to a panto this Christmas.

(Editor’s footnote: Our picture department would love to have featured some more… but one image was all we were given)