Slava's Snowshow, Royal Festival Hall, London
Friday 23 December 2011
Compared to the Gale Force 10 blizzard that is blasted into the auditorium at the end of Slava's Snowshow, the tornado at the start of The Wizard of Oz is for wimps and friends of Dorothy.
This is the third time I have experienced the piece and the finale never fails to amaze. The climax comes with a flood of blinding white light and the ear-splitting strains of Carmina Burana. Suddenly the billions of bits of paper-snow that were fluttering down from the heavens are redirected into a full frontal storm, engulfing everyone in the theatre, including the vulnerable figure of Slava himself, with his trademark mad professor hair, custard yellow romper suit and red nose and fluffy slippers. This is a true ticker-tape torrent, Open your mouth too wide with wonder and you could end up choked.
And as an additional delight, they release a batch gigantic coloured balls that you can jump up and bat around. The effect is a bit like being inside an enormous atom with madly bombarding electrons and neutrons. Even folk who are normally allergic to audience participation can't resist joining in this sequence. My guest reports that he has suffered significant bruising from his enthusiastic involvement.
The last time I saw Snowshow was at the Hackney Empire and I have to say that a traditnal gilt-and-plush theatre, with a proscenium arch, seems to me a more suitable environment for Slava and his 11-strong troupe than the slightly sterile modern frame provided by the Royal Festival Hall. A dream-like atmosphere is created from the outset and, to my mind, the show would work better as one unbroken spell – without the interval that is signalled here by the weird cotton-candy web that is whipped over the punters' heads binding us together in its sticky embrace.
The foolery on display owes something Chaplin and something to Beckett (the proceedings begin with that a Godot-style visual gag about hanging yourself). The set is a magical miniature universe of what look like star-studded blue duvets. Knockabout comedy (with a clown , say, clambering over the stalls pierced arrows for a klutzy protracted death scene) mixes with enchanting imagery (there's a lovely blizzard of bubbles) and poignant whimsy (with another clown who keeps falling off precariously angled furniture). And it is appropriately festive in spirit even if the childish wonder is of the kind more appeciated by adults. Slava once again proves that there's no show like Snowshow.
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