Slap­stick, satire ... and an en­chanted world

Sunday Herald Life - - THEATRE REVIEWS - Re­viewed by Mark Brown

SLAVA’S Snow­show, by the great Rus­sian theatre cre­ator Slava Pol­unin, is a phe­nom­e­non of world drama. Cre­ated in 1993, his show has be­come an in­ter­na­tional hit. Yet it has never made the kind of com­pro­mises we have come to ex­pect of big com­mer­cial shows.

An en­chanted world of night skies and snow-cov­ered land­scapes, pop­u­lated by lugubri­ous-yet-mis­chievous clowns, Pol­unin’s show has stayed won­der­fully true to its ori­gins. Western com­mer­cial theatre tends to have its rough edges smoothed away, all the bet­ter to de­liver the ex­pected prod­uct to the cus­tomers.

Snow­show, by beau­ti­ful con­trast, is as idio­syn­cratic, ec­cen­tric and hand­made as ever it was. There is, for ex­am­ple, no con­ces­sion to the de­mand for straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive.

In­stead, the yel­low clown (orig­i­nally played by Pol­unin him­self) and his lit­tle army of green clowns of­fer a se­ries of in­spired sketches. Yel­low clown is, at the out­set, on the verge of sui­cide, only to find that, at the other end of his long rope, is a green clown with ex­actly the same idea. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously touch­ing, hu­mane and hu­mor­ous, this lovely opener is typ­i­cal of the show as a whole.

The dozens of vi­gnettes that fol­low in­clude: yel­low clown climb­ing into the au­di­ence and cheek­ily re­dis­tribut­ing the jack­ets and hand­bags of au­di­ence mem­bers, the clowns go­ing to sea in an im­prob­a­bly im­pro­vised boat and a fab­u­lous snow­storm that feels like Christ­mas has come early.

There’s sur­re­al­ism and slap­stick, too. In one de­li­cious sketch, yel­low clown sits, as if in a sur­re­al­ist por­trait, on a chair set at an im­pos­si­ble an­gle. Of course, to the par­tic­u­lar de­light of the chil­dren in the au­di­ence, he slips off on to his back­side re­peat­edly, like a par­tic­u­larly dense, lat­ter day Rus­sian Char­lie Chap­lin.

All of this is pre­sented with the kind of phys­i­cally ac­com­plished per­for­mance and clever use of mu­sic and sound that will be fa­mil­iar to fans of such won­der­ful Rus­sian theatre-mak­ers as Derevo, Akhe and Do-Theatre.

Snow­show has grown in scale over the years, and it has be­come renowned for its mo­ments of grand spec­ta­cle. How­ever, its real charm still re­sides in its start­ing point, the hu­man pos­si­bil­i­ties of a sad lit­tle yel­low clown who, at his low­est mo­ment, finds a friend.

There’s com­edy of an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent kind in The Monarch Of The

Glen, a new stage adap­ta­tion of Comp­ton Macken­zie’s novel by tal­ented Scot­tish play­wright Peter Arnott. Di­rected for Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val Theatre by Richard Baron, this de­light­ful pro­duc­tion en­joys a gen­uinely stel­lar cast (which in­cludes such ac­tors as Deirdre Davis, Hannah Don­ald­son and Robin Har­vey Ed­wards).

Set in early-20th cen­tury Scot­land, the play finds Ch­ester Royde, an Amer­i­can prop­erty de­vel­oper with a pen­chant for build­ing golf cour­ses (bril­liantly played by Grant O’Rourke), show­ing up at Glen­bogle Cas­tle, seat of Don­ald Mac­Don­ald, aka Ben Ne­vis (Benny Young on fab­u­lously posh form). What en­sues is a farce of ro­mance, chi­canery and pol­i­tics (cour­tesy of some left-wing English hik­ers and an ab­surd, con­spir­a­to­rial Scot­tish pa­triot called Alan).

De­signer Ken Har­ri­son’s sets, cos­tumes and comic, minia­turised props are up to PFT’s typ­i­cally high, hy­per-re­al­is­tic stan­dards. How­ever, the real star of the show is Arnott’s script, which never misses a chance to con­nect Macken­zie’s satire with Scot­land and the world to­day.

The clash be­tween Ben Ne­vis’s en­ti­tled, union­ist To­ry­ism and Alan’s Saor Alba brand of Scot­tish na­tion­al­ism has de­light­ful echoes of the shriller mo­ments of the 2014 in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. Mean­while, O’Rourke’s mon­strous Amer­i­can is just a Twit­ter ac­count away from be­ing Don­ald Trump him­self.

Pho­to­graph: A. Lopez

Slava’s Snow­show is an idio­syn­cratic, ec­cen­tric de­light

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