Who will wipe away Assissiai’s tears? He can’t even successfully hang himself- another clown has the same idea. If you think that’s dark, that is just the opening scene from the profound, beautiful, frequently ridiculous institution that is Slava’s Snowshow. An award-winning piece of Russian theatre which plays to packed-out crowds worldwide, it was created by Russian clown and physical theatre doyen Slava Polunin in the grand tradition of Commedia Dell-Arte and Russian clowning alike.
These are not the simpletons of the circus, but rather a more layered and complex exponent of the artform. Vacillating between the lugubrious, the delirious, and the lascivious, there is a subtext here focusing on escaping the grip of Communism, (represented in red flags being swapped for white, and train journeys away from the tyranny) finding a way to freedom, and, ultimately, self-determinism. Magical moments of poetry are disrupted.
Sorrowful interludes, such as a moment where Assissiai fashions a loved one from a coat and hat, only to have to say goodbye, are as heart-rending as they are visually inventive. But there are plentiful episodes for children, too, and the silly dance sequences and tactile telephone scene, although carrying a message about alienation, are brilliantly executed. One delightful scene has the audience being ‘conducted’, with varying degrees of success. It’s laugh out loud funny.
Physical comedy aside, the sheer scope of the show is absolutely breathtaking. Even the eclectic music is wonderfully chosen, particularly the evocative twinkling lullaby. Earflaps seem to move independently of hats; a sloping table is impossible to work with, a vast cobweb curtain expands across the entire auditorium, and the mighty blizzard engulfs all, to the strains of O Fortuna. Clumsy ballet movements give way to a deeper scene of friendship- in finding kinship in others, no matter how bad things may initially seem. And just when it seems to be all over, massive coloured beach balls fly out into the audience like planets, and anarchy ensues. Just pity the poor person who has to clean up afterwards.
At King’s Theatre Glasgow until November 11th, and still touring