Preview: The Snowshow

Kevin Bourke enters the magical circus of Slava's Snowshow and overcomes his fear of clowns

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Say the “C” word out loud and some people will recoil in horror. “Clown”, for them, still brings to mind an unfunny (or even scary, if you’re Stephen King) guy sporting outsize shoes and trousers, with a red nose on his punchable face. But the legendary Slava Polunin, who has brought his legendary Slava’s Snowshow to The Lowry is not just a clown of a different stripe but simply one of the world’s great performers. An inspired and inspiring bearded bundle of energy, joy and unfettered invention, he warns you to “Beware, dreams come true” and passionately believes that “without an audience, a clown is nothing…and if there’s an audience and no clown, what is the point in that?”.

The Snowshow truly is unlike anything you’ve seen before – an extravagantly beautiful, universal and timeless theatrical classic in which a tiny piece of paper might miraculously transform into a spectacular snowstorm or a web of cotton could envelop the whole audience.

“A clown is really like a child, we have immediacy and freedom as children do. It is impossible for a child to sit still for more than five minutes and, like clowns, they always demand to be the centre of attention. But, like children, we also want to be loved.”

Yet clowning is, as they say, a serious business. Slava meticulously re-tools the Snowshow for different territories and can tell you which characters from his ever-expanding international family of performers will work in different places, and why. When he was thinking about working in the U.S, for example, he first spent many months on the road with Cirque du Soleil, appraising the crowds at the same time as he was delighting them.

In a typically magical yet utterly down-to-earth Slava story, he recounts how, when he told Cirque he wanted to leave “they said ‘fine, Slava, as long as you find a great replacement for us’ and I promised that I would, because I admire what they do so very much and they are friends. But you have an idea with Cirque and it takes three years to get it together. With my company you have an idea around the kitchen table and you could be doing it tomorrow and putting it into the show next week. It’s just the scale of things.”

“Anyway, I left that meeting in New York very amicably and I hailed a cab. One of Russia’s greatest classically-trained actors, whom I knew very well, was the driver of that cab! He asked ‘What are you doing here, Slava?’ and I told him, and of my search for a replacement. He said ‘ I have always wanted to be a clown, can you teach me?’ I said ‘I don’t teach but I can give you some guidance’, and in three days he had taken over from me at Cirque. He is still there, a fantastic clown and a very happy man!’

“Everyone in this world has creativity and talent, it’s just a question of bringing it out,” he tells me. “I work without any spoken language, and so could you. Creating magic, creating illusion, is fun.”

“About 25-30 per cent of the shows that the audiences will see will be improvised right there on the spot,” he asserts. “For example, someone will come on stage and they won’t enter at the right place, so you’ve then got to work out how to react to that, how to turn it into something fresh and new.” Like a jazzer who talks about making ‘the right mistakes’, perhaps?

“Oh yes!”, he says delightedly. “Or it’s like throwing a ball at a different angle and speed. You British, with your love of cricket, should know about that!”

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