Theatre Royal, Sydney
June 12, 2013
By Linda Badger.
Created by Russian Clown Slava Polunin, Slava’s Snowshow is a truly unique theatrical experience that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime…and when you see it, you probably won’t have experienced anything quite like it.
With most shows these days trying to outdo each other in energy, cutting edge technology, excitement factor, new movement, crazy tricks and the ‘X factor’, this show was quietly impressive in a whole different way. It felt as if we had been invited into Slava’s world, and allowed to experience something very special. Quite reflective of a traditional method of clowning, Polunin is influenced by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau, amongst other comedic royalty, whilst being completely relevant to a contemporary audience.
Having won many prestigious awards and recognition for his brilliant work in keeping a beautiful tradition alive, Polunin has gained himself world recognition, including a legacy still seen in some of the Cirque du Soliel productions showcasing his creative input.
The first thing that grabbed my attention as I entered the theatre was the music playing in the foyer that had a dark underpinning, leaving me wondering what I was about to step into. Upon entering the theatre, I noticed paper snow strewn throughout the aisles, floor and seating. This was going to be an interactive and unusual experience!
Being used to the high-impact, fast-paced, multi-faceted performances of much of contemporary theatre and dance shows, it actually took a while to settle into the slow pace, and subtle but superbly expressive style of Slava’s. It seemed very slow to start and I began to think that I might even get bored, all the while reminding myself to stay ready for the unexpected. I was not disappointed. Slava and his eight side-kicks took the audience on a journey that completely and utterly changed the atmosphere in the room from a fairly expressionless crowd to one very engaged in what they were watching. At the conclusion of the performance the audience was very hesitant to leave, with many people lingering in the theatre long after the performance had finished, as if they wished we could stay in this magical world forever.
Being very low budget, the audience was forced to really focus on the performers, who purposefully drew right back from the ‘spectacular’. We were able to concentrate on the wonder of simple but intricate movement, facial expression and subtle humour. It was as if your senses had to readjust; in a way it could be described as listening for a pin to drop in the silence. As we became adjusted to the style, it really was the most captivated I have been, and have seen an audience in an extremely long time. I caught myself looking at the faces around me, and it was beautiful to see faces that had walked into the theatre, perhaps weary from a day at work, rejuvenated, open and loving their experience.
The show comprised of segments, all a part of Slava’s personal negotiation of his world, along with help, and hilarious attempts to hinder his journey from another eight clowns. The performance took us through an absurdist look into the mind of a melancholy character who was prone to dramatic outbursts. Among many things, we went on a boat ride on the high seas, fell in love with an imaginary friend on the train platform and experienced Slava’s legendary snow storm, the show’s namesake. There was much use of play-acting; a lot of what you would imagine you would see if you were a fly on the wall in the bedroom of a child with an overactive imagination.
Underscore played an integral thread throughout the performance. The main composition, Edges of Illusion by Jazz composer John Suman, was a motif that reappeared consistently throughout the performance. Some pieces were well known and added to the humour factor, such as Chariots of Fire in Slava’s big boat journey, others were more obscure. Slava’s use of musical rhythms throughout the performance completely affected the comedic timing, indicating an extremely intricate level of choreography. To the untrained eye it may have all seemed completely natural, a part of the acting skill set, yet the entire show was completely choreographed right down to the finest detail. It is a choreographic masterpiece! It was not full of any kind of recognisable movement vocabulary, no combinations or phrases of eight, but it was most definitely a choreographically designed and purposed show.
As suspected, audience integration was a huge part of the performance. Pre-interval a gigantic silken ‘web’ completely covered the audience, travelling from the stage to the back seats of the first tier. It was slightly confronting as the performers broke the fourth wall. Interval antics followed with clowns climbing on people, stealing shoes and pouring water over hole-filled umbrellas. There were many hilarious moments if you chose to sit in during interval. These led into the beginning of the second act where the music and the tension heightened as the performance built up to Slava’s famous snow storm, to O Fortuna by Carl Orff. The snow storm was an incredible end to a beautiful, eclectic and not least of all, eccentric journey.
Slava showed the many sides to a clown, and how there is a true beauty in being able to freely express emotion. The costuming was simple, but versatile, and there were no real costume changes. The show was reflective of the Russian contemporary style of performance, with a passive darkness lurking beneath the surface, and a sparse but interchangeable set. It was completely unpredictable as there was no sense to be made of the journey. It was simply a journey and everyone who went on it would have gained something completely different from it.
Slava’s Snowshow is not to be missed. It’s the type of show that could be watched multiple times and every time would be a new experience.