Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to steal a child to accompany me to Slava’s Snow Show, the family-friendly, critically-acclaimed clown show which has just returned for the fifth year to the Southbank Centre, so I canvassed some opinions in the interval. Leanaa,10, said she “liked the spiderweb and getting stuck in it”. She was describing a fun, interactive moment where a small piece of fluff evolves into a giant web that seems to carry on forever and covers the whole audience. Niam, 8, said it was really good. “I liked when he was shrinking and growing and when he was nodding,” he said. I liked these bits too. They were very precise nods, very convincing shrinking and growing, as though Slava Polunin, the show’s creator, had thought long and hard about exactly which height would be the most funny and what style of nod was most amusing. Polunin shares the main role of the “yellow clown” with nine other actors, so on any given night it could be anyone behind the red, droopy nose and wild hair. The yellow clown, in appearance, resembles a crumpled Ronald McDonald in a baggy yellow onesie with red fluffy slippers. He is joined by a group of “Green Clowns” all with a similar hangdog expression, who create havoc around the yellow clown as the show drifts from one Beckettian scene to the next, with no overarching narrative. The clowns make noises but don’t really use words, so it’s accessible even for very young children who will enjoy the colours and textures of the squishy, padded panels of the set and the brightly coloured, giant balls that roll over the audience, even though the recommended age is eight and over.
Polunin’s yellow clown persona first appeared during a New Year’s Eve TV show in 1980, when he did a skit with the two furry red and yellow telephones that are still a staple of his act. He plays a coquettish woman on one phone and a charming man on the other, he is able to convey the meaning through the tone of his voice and a few gestures, no words are needed, although a gurgled “Royal Festival Hall” gets a few laughs. Drawing on influences from Charlie Chaplin to the rebellious Russian clown Leonid Engibarov, Polunin soon developed his one-man-show into a clown troupe where each clown had a different personality. So, as haphazard and spontaneous as it may seem, this is the work of many decades of careful crafting. Damien, 9, was unconvinced, however. “I would have liked it if it was faster and if there was more snow,” he said in the interval (the dizzying snow storm comes at the finale). “It should be called Slava’s slow show” he added, because the pace is a bit slow, especially if you’re used to fast-paced action films, the internet, or essentially, modern life. The innocent, gentle humour and lack of a clear storyline were frustrating for some, but for others, myself included, the charming homespun sets and simple, well-executed visual jokes tapped into a childlike wonder that few modern forms of entertainment manage to achieve.
Until 3 January 2016, tickets £24.75-£75, 020 7960 4200, southbankcentre.co.uk
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