A CLOWN has just stolen my bra. In a slick move that James Bond would find hard to replicate it’s suddenly produced from my back and waved in front of a room full of people. He’s literally Mad. Well, that’s what the rest of the cast and crew of Slava’s Snowshow call him anyway. Mad the clown.
Coming to the Festival Theatre next week, Slava’s Snowshow is a crazy combination of audience participation and childhood reminiscence all rolled up into an epic approach to snow.
Creator Slava Polunin, regarded by many as the best clown in the world, could easily be looked upon as the Dr Zhivago of clownery. Even in the absence of Julie Christie, there is no shortage of moving Russian drama in this production.
Once the curtain has fallen on the show itself, and after wading through a stage full of snow, dodging giant inflatable beach balls along the way, Slava and his interpreter sit down to explain what Mad is doing in the UK tour.
Mad, it would appear, is really a reflection of the absurd British sense of humour, he explains. It would seem that while the show boasts the same concept in each country it visits, the way in which the clowns in each cast work is subtly different.
France has poetic clowns. Spain’s are more passionate. The American company has a faster tempo. In Russia audiences weep. Slava, a Russian native now living on the outskirts of Paris, says, “During the show, where people laugh normally, in Russia they cry.
“After the show people queue just to hug the clowns and cry on their shoulders.”
Observing the wistful gaze of people who have genuinely been touched by the experience of being in the audience, it’s almost as if Slava has opened a long forgotten door to their childhood. He allows them a glimpse of the freedom and innocence and joy of which paying the bills and commuting to work has robbed them.
Playing all over the planet for the past 15 years, the Snowshow has notched up performances in more than 80 cities with many fans returning again and again. Yet Slava has never been tempted to change the format or shake it up even to amuse himself.
“It’s a simple, and at the same time, not a simple show. You get more and more acquainted with the show and more and more surprised by it. If you have a child that you love, then you can’t say that tomorrow you will love your child less. If it is not mechanical work but love, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend together.”
Love and happiness are words that pepper almost every one of Slava’s sentences as he talks passionately about what he does.
Even the suggestion that living up to the title of greatest clown in the world comes with some pressure to always be better than your last work is met by a contented chuckle, “Being a clown is no pressure. Clowns are only looking for happiness for themselves and other people.”
The 61-year-old’s eyes twinkle merrily as he describes mime and clowning as more of a philosophy or attitude towards life than an art to be mastered.
“Clowns don’t really understand the concept of rehearsal, after all, how can one rehearse life?
“It’s like when two things work together to create electricity, a plus and minus. That is the audience and the clowns.”
For Slava there is no fourth wall in a theatre, particularly during the finale of the Snowshow where the clowns turn the performance over to the audience.
“There is no frontier between a clown and the audience, a clown is a free person, he is a child, he cannot act without being in contact with the audience.”
Perhaps this is why Russian audiences cry, they truly appreciate how hard won the joy and freedom they experience in the auditorium is.
Other people go merely to harass the clowns into returning their underwear.
Slava’s Snowshow, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm) £17.50-£27.50, 0131-529 6000