Slava’s Snowshow at the Royal Festival Hall
The origins of Slava’s Snowshow lie in Russia, and the work has entertained theatre audiences from 1993. Since its first screening on New Year’s Eve television in 1980, the piece has garnered critical acclaim around the globe, and is still going strong.
Conceived by performance artist Slava Polunin, the show is a madcap tableau of events, not entirely plot driven. Polunin shares the role of the “yellow clown” with nine other actors, but his appearance never changes, with a glum expression and hang dog eyes, typifying the super sad clown. As we see him walk across the stage, a rope around his neck, he contemplates suicide. As he tugs on the rope, his Doppelgänger appears, mimicking his actions. Soon after this, more clowns emerge, with long oblong feet and floppy hats; they differ in size and characteristics, thought to represent the different emotions of the “yellow clown”.
When a bright yellow balloon floats, it’s easy to be reminded of Stephen King’s IT. The performance fluidly combines humour with the uncanny and would probably terrify a coulrophobic. The clowns interact heavily with the audience, throwing confetti over those at the front, becoming ever more courageous while carefully traipsing over spectators – a credible feat achieved by their long feet. There are many squeals all round, as delighted children and adults alike are sprinkled with water, creatively done with an umbrella upon which is an open bottle.
Though the plot is challenging to follow, the show is more about the difficulties we face, whether it be loneliness – as captured by the “yellow clown” when he puts his arm through a hanging coat and hugs himself, in true mime clown fashion, producing a bout of lamenting woes from the audience – or fear of the unknown, represented by the production as a whole in its fragmentation. There are eerie scenes where black-figured clowns appear with angel wings, or the brief moment with a lone rocking horse and a female clown on a swing who vanish as quickly as they arrive. These moments only make Slava’s Snowshow more bewildering, but what is left at the end is a performance that is charged with emotion, taking one back to childhood, a time when perhaps things weren’t so clear and fun could be had without the fear that one was judged by their peers.
Like any theatre piece, this is not for everyone, especially those with coulrophobia, and like Marmite audiences will either love it or hate it. The funny moments have potential to be funnier, particularly the scene where the “yellow clown” converses on two plush telephones in varying voices, though a few children and adults were laughing, as all humour is subjective. But, of course, the highlights are the seemingly infinite web that is spun over the audience, leaving all entangled and giggling, as well as the finale that sees giant colourful balls bouncing off everyone’s heads. Slava’s Snowshow is an experience more than a story to be told.
Photo: Veronique Vial
Slava’s Snow Show is at the Royal Festival Hall from 18th December 2017 until 4th January 2018. Book your tickets here.