Review from: The Bluma Appel Theatre at St. Lawrence Centre, Toronto; 7th December 2018
Growing up in the countryside, winter was a magical time for me and my sister. After a big snow storm, we would spend hours together building snowmen, making snow forts, and sledding. We would come inside with rosy cheeks and runny noses and our mum would have hot chocolate for us and we would warm up by the fireplace. It was a fairly idyllic time of my life and these are memories that I cherish.
The hours before were long and tedious though. As the snow storm raged outside, our mother would keep us indoors. It was too cold to go outside; the wind too strong; the snow blowing too hard. Those moments of boredom and what transpires out of those moments, when a child relies on their imagination to make fun, is where I found myself while watching the triumphant return of famed Russian clown, Slava Polunin, with Slava’s Snowshow last night at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
The show’s melancholy beginning features the protagonist, the Yellow Clown – often played by Polunin himself – alone on stage with a noose around his neck. He searches for the end of the rope, reminiscent of the handkerchief gag one might have seen a clown perform elsewhere, but with a dark twist. Finally at the end of his rope, he discovers a friend, a ragtag Green Clown. This Green Clown, and his troupe of doppelgangers, provide the more comic moments throughout the show. They play off of the more stoic Yellow Clown character, poking and prodding him into more light-hearted scenarios, teasing him incessantly to the delight of everyone in the audience.
The show achieves a delicate balance, teeter-tottering back and forth between moments of joyful mirth, dreaminess, and lonely solitude. The large set pieces, created by stage designer Viktor Plotnikov, add to these moments beautifully. The quilted midnight blue backdrops lend a dreamy quality throughout the production. The use of household items like a broom and bedsheet to make an imaginary sailboat is what stirs my own childhood memories and brings a smile to my face as I watch them work their way across the stage. A beautifully lonely interaction between the Yellow Clown and a coat hanging from a rack make me think of a child missing a parent who is away for work, the clown looking longingly to a face that isn’t there. In the moments of physical comedy – like the scene featuring an impossibly askew table and chair that the Yellow Clown keeps falling from – I have a good belly laugh to remind me that I’m still watching clowning at its finest.
There is a constant reaching out to the audience, playing with our emotions, and then bringing us back into the show for a laugh that make the show unique. There are so many moments throughout Slava’s Snowshow that include the audience in the storytelling. The Yellow Clown and his friends make their way through the theatre, climbing over chair backs with the help of those seated below them, or catching a ride on someone’s back. Some are buried under an avalanche of paper snow confetti, and we are all a part of the grade finale, that epic snow storm set to the introduction of Carl Orff’s classical masterpiece, Carmina Burana. I implore you not to leave the theatre too quickly after the finale because the fun and merriment of the show does not end with the bows. Audience members, young and old, stay and play with the Green Clowns tossing a series of oversized colourful balls into the crowd and impromptu “snow” fights happen all around. Like me, everyone seems transported back in time to their childhood. Also, I’m sure it was not the original intention of this 20-something year old production, but these moments are what Instagram was made for!
Slava’s Snowshow is an absolutely, wonderfully, delightful production. It is no surprise that it has been touring the world constantly since its premiere in 1996 at the Hackney Empire Theatre in London. I would highly recommend bringing friends and family out to see this one-of-a-kind show for fear that it’s another 20 years before it returns to the theatres of Toronto!