Reviewed by Matthew Norton
Playing at the Royal Festival Hall until 6 January 2014
The auditorium inside the Royal Festival Hall was buzzing. Being a single man at a clown show, I was grateful to see a mix of kids and plenty of adults to make me feel a bit better about being there alone.
Wreathed in smoke and a glittering shower stands a small clown in a yellow jumpsuit. The stage and most of the people in the front row are already covered by white pieces of paper. Someone at the front is throwing a handful of the paper back onto the stage. The little clown notices, he throws her a look, perfectly timed and beautifully pitched.
It’s must be hard work being a clown. Some can be exhausting to watch, over-effortful and too busy-busy. Not so here, everyone is light and easy on their feet. The jokes are nicely casual, transitions are beautifully blended. The work is precise and economical. Even the smallest gestures are readable and the actors make sure that everyone in the audience gets a good view of the action.
It is this effortlessness of the audience-inclusion, as well as the easy mastery of the physical clowning that mark this out as a great work of the genre. Creator Slava Polunin and Director Victor Kramer have spent years honing their creation and it shows. Sound and visuals are expertly matched. The spectacular technical demands are handled faultlessly. There isn’t a bum note played. Despite it’s long tenure and obvious polish, it still feels fresh. There are some delicious moments of improvisation and the actors are always alive to each other and the audience as they play to create the world they are inviting us into.
It’s a surreal world, it’s not always pleasant and nothing seems to follow. Scenes are made, gags played out, sets transformed. It’s all very charming but we cant see the wood for the trees. Where is it going? What’s the story?
It becomes clear that the show isn’t simply going to ‘come together’ in the second half. Something much more profound is afoot. The vignettes build, artfully juxtaposed, funny and poignant. Each contains a gentle invitation to the audience: to connect, to break the barrier. It’s nice to be noticed and we respond. We grow bolder, people call out to the stage, throw things at it. The clowns respond and a wonderful energy is exchanged. The kids are whooping it up and the adults are all transfixed.
The climax of the show, like the interval, arrives suddenly and is literally breathtaking. A full out assault on that barrier we’ve been tentatively breaking down. It leaves us gasping and grinning, fully in the spotlight for the first time and loving it.
A boisterous ovation ensues and just when we think its all over, it’s playtime! It is here that the show finally becomes clear and makes the kind of holistic sense that can be lacking in a linear narrative. The stage invades the auditorium and we see that we have been the forest we’ve been looking for all along, we are the missing link. It is a beautiful experience. There are smiling, happily damp eyes everywhere and everyone gets involved. It’s tempting to stay right to the end, until the toys are packed away but I want to get a feel for the departing punters and so position myself outside the exit.
Every child is rosy-cheeked and lit-up and every adult is grinning like a clown. They have a twinkle in their eye, the happily self-satisfied one I’ve seen before. I do too, and I can assure you, it does last.
Author / Creator : Slava Polunin
Director : Victor Kramer
ACTORS : Un-credited for specific performances.