The winter of our content [by Matt Baker]
It’s no surprise that Slava’s Snowshow won the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Reading his biography and musings, one can only begin to scratch the surface of Slava Polunin’s ethos on theatre. The rest must simply be experienced.
Polunin first created his clown persona Asisyai over thirty years ago, which speaks volumes when considering how both original and enduring the character is. Even Polunin’s first televised sketch from a New Year’s Eve programme in 1980 is included in the show. He has been heralded as the best clown in the world, and it’s easy to see why. Polunin has fascinating particularisations, perfect timing and rhythm, and incredibly astute subtleties. It would be forgiven to think, due to their skills, that what he and his troupe do is easy, but it would always be very inaccurate. Aiding him, or perhaps impeding him, from his antics are several duplicate clowns, variations of a single character whom Asisyai inadvertently ropes in on stage. These multiples, while unique in their own way, have a core dynamic that links them together, and give a nice contrast to Asisyai’s more cantankerous side.
From Asisyai’s saxophone motif and Blue Canari, to fish and orange orbs, Slava’s Snowshow utilises an eclectic range of spectacle elements. The grandeur of the set, the kookiness of the props, the extremity of the lighting, and the musical accentuation are almost characters in themselves in Slava’s bizarre world. I do wonder, however, if some of the symbolism is lost in translation. The show’s narrative is more a series of absurd sketches as opposed to sequential scenes that create a narrative. That being said, it does succeed in creating a profound sense of tragedy as much as comedy, highlighted in the opening and closing vignettes, that somehow suggests we have been watching something all along that we, as an audience, have not been consciously aware of. It is easy to be bewitched by the beauty of snow and forget its allusion to death.
Being a show of unparalleled spectacle, one must also be aware that the performance contract one agrees to when entering the theatre is somewhat magnified. Therefore, I have addressed four points that I believe should be noted when attending the show:
1. If you are keen on interaction, sit in the stalls.
2. Do NOT buy a drink before the show unless you can finish it before going in, as drinks other than bottled water are not allowed into the theatre.
3. If you need to use the facilities during the intermission, get back to the theatre as soon as you can.
4. Remember that clowns can get away with anything.
And they do.
Slava’s Snowshow plays at The ASB Theatre until 14 July.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe