Born of an imagination that is astonishingly vivid, Slava’s Snowshow artfully lures its audience into a dreamy realm where no words are spoken, but so much is said.
Russian performance artist (and creator of the production) Slava Polunin was strongly influenced by Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin, and has curated a unique tragicomedy which combines Chaplin’s slapstick humour and Marceau’s refined art of pantomime.
I was aware that Slava’s Snowshow might induce a case of coulrophobia, especially for someone with a horror of audience interaction. But these clowns are immensely likeable. Even though at times the scenes are dark and the music eerie, the characters and personalities of the clowns are anything but.
As the first clown emerged from the wings, the once excited and bustling audience became silent with anticipation. He tiptoed slowly and intentionally across the stage in giant, fluffy red shoes and a bulging yellow overall with a noose in his hand. His demeanour was serious, yet tinged with a childlike innocence. And from that first moment, I had a strange urge to know his story, and to understand the reason behind the emotions that flickered plainly over his face.
But as the show went on, it became clear that we’re not always meant to interpret hidden meanings or gage original intentions. Slava’s Snowshow was created to take us back our childhood dreams and escape the stress and responsibility that comes with being an adult. And while various scenes or gestures may be slightly nonsensical, I found myself lost in amazement at the sheer beauty of this piece of theatre.
Captivated from start to finish, I allowed myself only the minimal number of blinks per minute, intending to absorb every scene, every expression, every colour. Throughout the entire show, the audience is served a melting pot of delicate intricacies mixed with grand displays.
Glowing orbs float in slow motion above a darkened stage, and bubbles dance lightly in the air.
Clowns move to and fro with a rhythm and musicality akin to dancers – each little shuffle of foot or tiny change in expression perfectly timed to the soundtrack. Over and above the extraordinary performances of the actors, this production is a masterclass in exquisitely pared down lighting, staging, and sound. Even in the choice of colour palette and texture there is a perfectionist attention to detail.
And then, in an instant, a spider’s web spanning the length and width of the Opera House itself is flung right over our heads, trapping us underneath its cotton ceiling. A little later, we are blinded by a bright light and a paper snow blizzard which gushes violently from the stage while our ears are deafened by Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana thundering throughout the theatre. Slava’s Snowshow is an event experienced by all the senses… often simultaneously.
And even if you’re stubbornly opposed to any form of interaction, I dare you to resist smacking about the enormous balloons that are released into the theatre at the end of the show. Even the stiffest of temperaments found themselves reaching up involuntarily to give the planet-sized balls another lift. It was the most magical finale to any theatre performance I’d witnessed.
Utterly unique, this weird and wonderful show has completely won my adoration. And I’ll never be half-hearted about clowns again.
Slava’s Snowshow runs at the Artscape Opera House until 28 August 2016.