There is a grand cosmic truth buried within Slava’s Snowshow.
I only wish I knew what it was.
What I do know, however, is that this show is one of the most enchanting, wonderful things I have ever seen on stage.
Our hero is a clown in a yellow jumpsuit, who navigates his universe, hopping between realities, surrounded by green trenchcoat-wearing clowns who sometimes help and sometimes hinder his journey. Do they represent the fates, or are they manifestations of his own hopes and dreams? We never find out – but they are almost always present.
Nor do we ever find out what exactly is going on. While the scenes in Slava’s Snowshow have a thread running through them, that thread is made of imperceptible spider silk. Nonetheless, it holds everything together, somehow.
Operating in a twilight dreamscape somewhere between Tim Burton and Samuel Beckett, there is a melancholy that permeates this production; a lurking sadness that makes the bright, twinkling moments all the more beautiful. We first meet the yellow clown as he places a noose around his neck, only to discover that the other end of the rope is attached to a green clown, doing the same thing. It’s a darkly funny opening to the show, but before long, the audience is in rapt silence as the clown glides across the stage, waltzing with a large, floating red bubble.
The show flip-flops between gentle comedy, sensual overload and macabre ballet, but one thing that remains constant is the pace.
An early scene shows the clowns sailing through a misty sea on a boat made from an old bedstead, and their bobbing journey neatly parallels the show, which gently ebbs and flows from start to finish.
It doesn’t just give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. It unscrews your head, pours in hot chocolate, and seals you up again with melted marshmallow and popping candy.
Slava’s Snowshow was first created in 1993 by Russian performance artist and clown, Slava Polunin, and its cross-border longevity is no surprise. Sad is always sad. And funny is funny wherever you’re from.
Without a shred of hyperbole, one very short, simple scene (where a drunken clown falls off a chair) had me laughing harder than I ever, ever have before – genuine tear-rolling, stomach-cramping, shoulder-shaking laughter. As a battleworn theatregoer with little patience for clowns, I was surprised by my own reaction, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. As the dreamlike story unfurled, it lured us in, chipped away at the hard-earned cynicism and filled us with innocent delight.
Slava says he wanted his Snowshow to ‘help the spectators be released from the jail of adulthood the children they once were,’ and it does.
It doesn’t just give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. It unscrews your head, pours in hot chocolate, and seals you up again with melted marshmallows and popping candy.
The end of the performance is a callback to the earlier floating red bubble scene, only this time, it is the audience in control. Enormous floating globes sweep from the stage into the stalls, bouncing high into the air and upper levels, colliding with each other before being pushed skywards again by excited spectators. Meanwhile bubbles pour from the stage and snow falls from the ceiling. It’s almost overwhelming in its eccentric beauty, and it’s remarkable that, during this incredible, outrageous finale, not one audience member was brandishing a camera. We were no longer grown-ups at the theatre, objectively viewing a performance. We were all children, enchanted and amazed, lost in the magic.
If you have even the slightest remnant of joy in your heart, find this show and take everyone you know.