After 25 years on tour Russian clown Slava Polunin’s acclaimed show returns to Toronto
Winter can be a pretty depressing time in the city; tall buildings turn our roads into wind-tunnels channeling the bitter cold into our faces, the sidewalks are covered with brown slush, and the days are so short we seem to live in perpetual darkness. Even so, every year when that first snow flurry blankets everything in a fluffy, white coat, it still feels like magic. Now, if you could take that mix of emotions, bundle it together and put it on stage, you’d have something akin to Slava’s Snowshow.
Renowned Russian clown Slava Polunin has been touring his Snowshow around the world for the past 25 years and has landed back in Toronto for the first time in two decades, just in time for the holiday season.
Slava’s Snowshow is comprised of a series of vignettes performed by a troupe of Russian clowns in a wordless, pantomime-based physical performance style. The closest cultural point of reference I can think of is the Blue Man Group or the clown acts featured in Cirque du Soleil—in fact, Polunin was one of the collaborators on Cirque du Soleil’s show Alegría. If you enjoy these types of performances, you’re bound to love Slava’s Snowshow.
The lead character, the Yellow Clown (sometimes played by Polunin himself), has an underlying pathos. At the top of the show he sulks onto the stage with a sullen expression and proceeds to tie a noose around his neck but then comically struggles to find the other end of the rope. That opening scene sets the tone for the show and beautifully illustrates life’s contrasts; it’s the bitterness of life’s sad moments that make life’s fleeting happy moments all the more sweet.
What follows is a series of scenes where the Yellow Clown interacts with an ensemble of clowns in matching green outfits. Most of the humour is subtle often relying on a character’s change of expression to illustrate the absurdity of a given scenario. Indeed, the restrained execution may be a bit too subtle at times to register with audience members more used to the slapstick variety of humour.
However, what the show lacks in guffaws and belly-laughs it makes up for with its beautifully poetic imagery and moments that evoke genuine emotion. There’s a particularly striking scene near the end of the show where the Yellow Clown animates an overcoat hanging on a rack and seems to bring it to life—the illusion is so convincing, the effect is magical. The clown and the overcoat act out a beautiful scene leading into the show’s spectacular snow storm finale.
By the end of the show, the audience collectively reverts to a child-like state; I found myself giggling under a flurry of paper snow while volleying giant coloured balls around the auditorium with the rest of the audience. In these bleak times it’s such a gift to experience that type of sheer, unadulterated joy, if even just for a few moments.
Speaking of children, while the show is not explicitly marketed as a show for children (and there is no discounted price for childrens’ tickets) it’s a show the whole family can enjoy and there were several children in the audience on opening night who seemed to really enjoy it. Also, for those of you who are terrified of audience participation, any moments where audience members are invited to participate are strictly voluntary and nobody is ever awkwardly put on the spot.
- Slava’s Snowshow is playing from December 7 to 16, 2018 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E)
- Shows run Thursday to Sunday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets $59 – $129
- Tickets are available in person at the venue box office or online.
Photo of Slava’s Snowshow by Vladimir Mishukov