Scaramouche Jones or The Seven White Masks at Wilton’s Music Hall
Scaramouche Jones is a curious show. Premiered in 2001, it offers a strangely comical and tragic take on the history of the 20th century, told as the rumination of a dying 100-year-old clown on New Year’s Eve 1999 as he opens up to the audience to retell his story. His was a strange life with many ups and downs, and the result is a glorious one-hander with stellar acting.
Writer and performer Justin Butcher stars as Scaramouche Jones, who is born on 31st December 1899 to a gypsy prostitute and an Englishman in Trinidad. Growing up, his unlikely journey takes him across the Atlantic to Africa as a slave, towards Europe with an Italian prince, and finally to a Nazi concentration camp, where he is spared the death sentence, thanks to his white appearance, and is condemned to dig the graves of the prisoners instead. In this most macabre of situations, he quite literally becomes a clown, trying to make the children laugh for one last time before they are killed.
The theme of the tearful clown is hardly new – and here, too, it remains consistent; indeed, one of the central lines is that, “it takes 50 years to make the clown, and 50 years to play the clown”. We are all clowns, to some extent, and his life is the prime example of this. Despite verging on the border of cliché, the theme becomes particularly harrowing when juxtaposed with the realities of the concentration camp and Jones’s desire to help people find happiness even in the most unlikely of places. It’s all very operatic – but in an effective way.
From quirky and absurd to bleakly desperate, the clown’s life is a rollercoaster of emotion. This is part of what makes Scaramouche stand out. It is astonishingly gripping thanks to Butcher’s performance; his delivery is always apt and often moving. The production, too, is fantastic, thanks to the direction of Guy Masterson, who gathers a great team with Adam Cork’s excellent music and impressive sound design creating a subtle, atmospheric impact.
Scaramouche Jones or The Seven White Masks is simply a brilliant piece of writing, brought to life by a talented cast of creatives who know exactly what they are doing – and it shows. Even 20 years later, this piece maintains its power and deserves a hearty recommendation.
Scaramouche Jones or The Seven White Masks is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 15th June until 26th June 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: