With an extensive international touring history and a haul of awards, Slava’s Snowshow features clowning and mime in a series of vignettes. From goofy physical comedy to inventive imagery, this show needs a poet more than a writer to convey its surprisingly rich experience. Fortunately the show is easy to enjoy, as shown by the enthusiasm of a wide range of ages (it's recommended for eight and up) at the Melbourne opening.
Created and staged by Slava Polunin, the show is the latest manifestation of Polunin’s devotion to the skills of clowning. A stint at mime school at 17 lead to the formation of his own company, Litsedei, in Russia in 1979. Slava’s Snowshow began in 1993, with elements becoming part of Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria. Regular touring of Snowshow hasn’t frozen it in time and supports the programme discussion of Slava’s ambition to innovate and “lead Theatrical Clowning into the 21st century”. This performance certainly shows the evolution of the art form from its European influences, combining clowns with oversize shoes and red noses with changes of pace, unpredictability and theatrical moments enhanced by apt musical choices.
And silliness abounds as a cohort of clowns in big baggy yellow or green costumes go on sea-faring adventures in unsuitable craft. Aside from this, performances take us from moments of quiet contemplation to manic audience engagement. It’s consistently good clean fun, particularly when a change of scene gives us something inexplicably nutty, or undermines our expectations.
I was particularly engaged by the flair for artistic moments intrinsic to Polunin’s take on clowning. The accumulated effect of these hit me in the second half in a dimly lit scene with a crescent moon and rocking horse. Referencing childhood dreams unconstrained by earthly physics, I could only marvel at the creative process able to feather our memories and launch a feeling of wonder in such brief instants. Even against a recognisably normal backdrop, a wordless clown can find an unexpected emotional resonance, as anyone who's ever said a difficult goodbye at a train station might recognise.
There's no actual snow in the show, but there's a suitable indoors substitute and a finale that's as exhilarating as an icy blast. The connection between audience and performance was obvious, as I’ve never seen a group of people so keen to hang around to participate in some fun after the performers had taken their bows.
Slava’s Snowshow is an often joyous and satisfying experience that uses a little snow in the depths of winter to warm a lot of hearts.