Slava’s Snow Show, The Lowry, Manchester, 9th-13th December 2013
A shock haired man in a mustard coloured onesie stands gazing sadly out at the audience. The capaciousness of his outfit allows him to seemingly grow and shrink, albeit with possibly the saddest expression on his face ever worn by a man. Minutes pass. The man discovers a rope and holds up a large noose, which he slips over his head before starting to tug on the rope in his hands, as if what we are witnessing here is a dumbshow Godot. Another figure, wearing what looks like a green raincoat and a sort of deerstalker hat with flaps that stick out like aeroplane wings, arrives on the end of the rope. The two figures apprise themselves like children. Soon the stage is filled with green raincoated figures of all heights moving, slowly, musically, about the place. Welcome, prepared to be both amused and bemused by Slava’s Snow Show.
What we have here is a troop of Russian clowns performing quite possibly the only kind of clown show that could hope to find a home at the Lowry: by turns slapstick, avant garde, creepy, bewitching, odd, hilarious, nonsensical and, eventually, amazing, exhilarating and extraordinary. Not bad for a 90 minute show containing a 20 minute interval. Playing to an almost packed out house comprising as many wide eyed adults as giddy children, Slava’s Snow Show is, in the main, a series of bits: we see Slava (or the clown we presume is Slava) playing with a large balloon, as other clowns move about him in slow motion and a single clown zorbs across the stage trapped in a gigantic transparent ball; we see Slava and his buddy on a bedstead that, thanks to a boatload of dry ice, is transformed into a boat, soundtracked by Vangelis; we see high voices and low voices employed to intensely comic effect as two oversized Sesame Street phones provide Slava with an opportunity to plan a romantic tryst.
There are touches of Beckett to all this, as we alluded above, but there are also glimpses of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the Marx Brothers (particularly in the sweet and funny sketch that sees Slava caught between two taller clowns, busy miming and dancing to an old French record), Chaplin (Slava hangs a coat on a stand and somehow or other manages to bring the coat to life), David Lynch (a staccato section in which we see a rocking horse, a gloomy looking clown knitting spiderwebs and a man falling repeatedly from a tilted chair is possibly the scariest bit of the night) and Cirque de Soleil (like Cirque, Slava’s Snow Show employs train sounds and furious blizzards to dramatic effect). Fans of the Flaming Lips will also thrill to see large inflatables used to render just about everyone in the room a five year old, people of all ages gazing open mouthed as balls the size of cars emerge from behind the duvet stage set to bounce about the auditorium, propelled on the outstretched arms of the audience.
By far the best thing about Slava’s Snow Show is the way in which certain bits are designed to move from the smallest detail to something truly awe-inspiring, a pinch of thin wool caught between thumb and index finger, for example, that grows, first engulfing Slava himself but going on to stretch from the front to the back of the theatre, covering the heads of all of the audience in the stalls; later, a flurry of snow is transformed into a gale that blasts confetti snow into the faces of just about everyone in the room. Somehow or other, and despite the occasional overpowering creepiness of some of these clowns, Slava has also managed to do away with the audience’s fear of participation, and many a welcoming arm reaches up as the clowns climb across seats, brandishing umbrellas that spew dizzying parabolas of water about the place.
As a whole, it’s immensely strange, and quite unlike anything your correspondent had ever seen before, which is something in and of itself. There were elements that didn’t quite reach all the way to the back of the theatre (if you’d managed to obtain tickets in the first four or five rows, you’d experience the piece far better than anyone stuck near the exits) – but in the main it’s a highly unusual evening out that had the majority of the people in attendance leaving with huge smiles on their faces, snow in their hair and long strands of webbing all over their clothes. It would be interesting to learn, though, just how many of those children had dreamless (or should that be nightmare-less?) sleep afterwards…