The nights are growing colder and darker. Winter is creeping closer and there is a theatrical snow storm blowing into town. Cue Slava's Snowshow, an oddly mesmerizing celebration of song, slapstick and spectacle whose emotive vignettes attempt to capture the essence of humanity through the eyes of an adventurous, enthusiastic Russian clown.
Whether it's a maniacal Stephen King villain or a Shakespearean fool, clowns have been used throughout history to expose our fears and our selves. Slava plays upon these uncertainties and insecurities to great effect, pitting his heroes as breakaway individuals who both entertain and unnerve. Although the threat is no more real than a splash of water, the vividly painted smiles and blackened eyes of his design finds a certain vulnerability which is both poignant and identifiable.
The overall presentation is quite spectacular. Pumping in enough dry ice to rectify global warming, the designers have created a sophisticated frozen world which shines in its simplicity, capturing the curious mindset of childhood and the nightmarish strangeness of a Scandinavian fairytale. Gleb Titanyan's clever soundtrack is part horror film, part folk festival and is timed with both tenderness and wit.
As the auditorium becomes messy with paper snow, the plot becomes messy with unexplored narrative and unfulfilled intention. Were it trying to be a non-linear piece of performance theatre, its individual sketches could be celebrated as pieces of living art which seek to complement and remedy the human condition.
Unfortunately, they do not. Instead, creator Slava Polunin presents a series of semi-connected scenes which form a flimsy, undefined narrative in the first act which is casually abandoned in the second. As a consequence, much of the clowning becomes repetitive and empty and leaves the developments undeveloped.
With the pretence of a plot dutifully dropped, the talented cast of clowns have the freedom explore, with genuinely sublimity, creativity and humour, the exquisite spectrum of human emotion. There is something so recognisable, so hideously beautiful, in the careful, deliberate movement of a painted eyelid or in the stretch of a smile as it moves to reflect the one painted on.
It would be impossible not to gasp with delight at the feats of design and execution which are on display here. Slava's Snowshow is no ordinary theatrical experience: it tests the boundaries of the stage and quite literally blows its audience away with its effects. And yet, these effects dwarf much of the production’s well-crafted subtlety, leaving it to be little more than theatrical ball pit, colourful and exciting but at times hollow and weightless.