Thursday, January 17, 2013

Snow, as created by Slava

Artwork of Slava's Snowshow (Source:
My usual mantra concerning clowns are that they are always, at best, a necessary evil. In my experience the humour is low-brow, annoying, and ususally serves as padding to the superior action that goes on stage elsewhere in performance. That said, my friend had told me great things about Slava's Snowshow, and I'd previously seen a segment of the act in Cirque du Soleil's Alegría. I know that since I was never going to see snow in London this year, Slava's Snowshow was probably being the closest thing to living in the real thing.

The chorus of forlorn clowns (Source: Slava's Snowshow).
Concieved and written by Slava Polunin, the piece is a series of sketches that are loosely tied together through various esoteric symbolism and themes of loneliness. The humour of the clowns is surprisingly charming, and very sweet, not relying on the usual toilet humour or slapstick. The talent of the performers is awing, who move with adorable choreography and endearing innocence. There is no real language spoken, and instead choreography and music dictate the mood while the performer's movement and  the audience laugh. Only one or two sketches are devoid of humour, the rest are wonderfully original, endearing and whimsical. Particularly entertaining scenes included a hilariously dramatic, repetitive falling off a seat to Mozart's Requiem and the capsizing of a ship which involves sharks doing floor dives among the mist on stage. The piece de resistance is the finale, after a tender and somewhat sorrowful display an elderly clown causes a thunderous snowstorm which sweeps the space with thousands of cut snowflakes. It really is gorgeous and truly magical, and needs to be lived to be believed.

Clowns in a boat sketch (Source: Wikipedia).
Attention could be easily lost in a large theatre but there is also a fair amount of audience interaction, which is just enchanting. A giant spider web passes over the audience, snow falls and sits among the seats and giant spheres lumber across the space, moved by the hands underneath. It's wonderful to watch, but my issue with the piece was that due to where I was sitting it was impossible to be immersed into the action. The piece is clearly made for smaller theatres, since much of this interaction doesn't reach people sitting in the nosebleed seats. While I had a bunch of awful children sitting behind me, I felt bad that they didn't get to be caught in the grand finale and feel any snow, and likewise, everyone who handled the giant bouncing balls had no sense of space and kept hitting them back to the front.

The lighting is gorgeous and sensual, suitably matching the moods of the sketches on stage. The music is also fitting - simplistic, quirky and sweet, however somewhat occasionally tacky. The use of Carmina Burana in the finale is a bit jarring since it feels like some original scoring that isn't so bombastic could have enhanced the magic even more.

It's slow to take off - and at times I wondered why I was there - but at certain points in the piece there is a wonderful whimsical charm to the piece, and once it draws you in you are kept firmly engaged. If you are going to see the piece, make sure you see it up close and in the middle - staying at the side really removes you from the action and it's somewhat disappointing to be watching the spectacle rather than living it. A lot of things contribute to making this an enchanting piece of theatre, and it's easy to see why so many people have been swept away by it.

Slava's Snowshow performed at the Royal Festival Hall from December 17th - January 7th.

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