“He throws some snow about”
At a workshop in 2015, performance master Philippe Gaulier was asked about clowns: who are the great clowns out there now? Who is his favourite clown ever? Where do clowns grow? He had some answers.
Today, Jan 1st, I went to see Slava’s Snow Show at the Royal Festival Hall with the wonderful Christian Brighty (whose work I cannot wait to see). SSS makes it as the first show of 2016 and I shall be listing and writing about, even if briefly, each piece of performance I encounter this year.
I was disappointed. I shouted at the stage.
It was not as physically precise as I wanted it to be, as all comedy deserves to be. For a children’s show, for an international, physical, clown piece with little language, I expect physical precision. Bear in mind that kids deserve the very best level of performance as this shapes how they feel about art into the future. Also, they are the harshest critics and far smarter than we generally assume.
There was no real coherence in the world – set, physicality, etc. – or between characters or scenes, plus a lack of phrasing. Paul Hunter once led a workshop and talked about the comedy tradition of adding energy to the stage every single time a performer entered or left the playing space. This was lacking, and I felt that there were so many missed opportunities to present joy and pleasure, especially when things went wrong e.g. when he lost his shoe.
Simplicity. I enjoyed the shape and movement of the hats and shoes. The random appearance of the giant, lit, orange ball. The barking shark. The sideway tilted world was the best sketch with comic timing which was both pleasingly traditional and surprising. The phone sketch had beautiful moments but there was too much noise which distracted from the beautiful simplicity of the scene. (There was too much noise, physical and visual, in the show.)
The use of known music was bafflingly bad and the gratuitous insertion of spectacle seemed a shame, although I enjoyed the giant bouncy balls, and the wind machine. I mean, who wouldn’t? Short-lived, inconsequential delight won with production money. Ach.
The coat scene was a good section with a nod towards emotion and groundedness. Everyone understands care and a farewell.
The scene with the single snowflake on the audience member’s head was delightful. And the appearance of and the fight over the fish was too short-lived. The exit of the small glowing ball was lost.
With the conducting of audience cheers, it kinda almost worked but then even as we warmed up and gave our sounds to them, they dropped the ball. Seemed to not value our gifts, given up in good faith. So sad.
I won’t go on. I am glad I saw it. It reminded me that physical precision is an absolute must and that simplicity is often the way forward. Giving beautiful, simple moments air around them is important, and we must fight our fear of the short attention span. We are not TV or an action movie and we do not have to keep moving, panning, zooming in and out or jerking all about to sustain interest. Handle the space between you and the audience’s imagination and heart with care. Trust that you are watchable, if you’ve done your research and training, and crafted your piece. Trust in your love of the work you’ve made.
This show has been going on for years. I am sure it began simply and was beautiful. It feels a little tired and lost at the moment, but the good bits were good (and clowning and comedy is the hardest thing to do) and I was reminded how wonderful good performers and good live performances can be – transformative, inspiring us to dream and thus to live.
What did I shout at the stage? You know how when youre working with masks, puppets, or object manipulation, or if you’re a character in Disneyland? There is a way to treat your costume and your props and the world around you in order to create and sustain the magic. As a performer reached to whip off his headpiece at the end of the show, I shouted,”DON’T TAKE OFF THE HAT!!!”
Bring energy on, leave energy on. Build something beautiful and offer it up with humility.