Royal Festival Hall, London
8th January 2012
Send in the clowns, there have to be clowns …
We had to see it again. Last time we saw it was in Bath in 2006. Slava’s Snowshow brings us back to the essence of physical theatre. It’s best described as a clown show, or (in a non-British sense) pantomime. It’s all so much closer to the audience in smaller halls than the Cirque du Soleil’s clown acts, though not dissimilar.
It’s been running since 1993. In Bath, I think we saw the originator, Slava Polunin himself. He’s 63, and now it’s a younger model; they say Slava only does one show on the two-show days. It makes no difference. The one we saw didn’t have the bald head in the programme pictures, but who knows for sure under the clown face? The show has been all over the world. It goes on and on.
Has it changed? We thought it had but couldn’t be sure. The closing blizzard meant more powerful wind machines we thought. The only final scene I’ve seen this exciting was Stages by the London Contemporary Dance Theatre in the early 70s, when the whole set collapsed onto the performers. The spiders web ending the first half, and mega balloons at the end seemed the same.
The music is carefully chosen and powerfully rendered. Some of it is classic mime: the love scene with a coat on a hat stand (at a railway station) is brilliant. Back in 1974, we had a Turkish mime artist join our shows for language learners for a few months, and he did something very similar, but without the final twist. The slanting table is great prat fall work. It’s how it’s put together that counts. As last time, we felt that the first half with more ensemble playing, was better than the second half with more solo tragic clown. The telephones routine is funny, but according to the programme predates even Slava’s Snowshow.
I can’t recall well enough to know whether it’s changed and grown. With so much physical comedy, and with improvised audience reaction sections, you feel it must have done, or rather, should have done. We bought the soundtrack CD last time. S’Wonderful had stood out for us at Bath, but here it was lost in the balls floating over the audience. That convinced me the show had changed. The poster / programme shot of Slava with giant snowball doesn’t happen, but we do see one of the green-coated supports with a snowball. I recall stilt work, and a Google Image search shows it. It didn’t happen. My guess is the show has evolved.
At the end, the central clown sat on the edge of the stage and hugged kids as they came to see him. Truly S’wonderful. This is the sort of show that gives kids a lasting affection for the theatre.
One criticism. It’s way too expensive for an 80 minute show in a large venue, with a cast of fewer than ten, and one that’s been running for 19 years with few changes … £47.50 at the side where we were, £65 for premium seats. It’s a superb and memorable show for kids, but we’re talking £260 for four in the best seats. It was full. They could halve the prices and still go home with bags of cash. My old complaint about London Theatres with their membership special deals still holds. Central government subsidies support these London venues, but the priviliges of membership are only worthwhile for London residents. Not fair.