Exactly what Slava’s Snow Show is is challenging to put into words. One way of looking at it is as a visual spectacle that removes the audience from reality and immerses them in an entirely new, unrecognisable one.
It became clear very early on in the performance that it has no through-narrative, and is rather a series of visually arresting, but seemingly random, “sketches”. If this could be accepted, and searches for rhyme or reason abandoned, this lack of story served only to heighten the sense of abstract and fantasy, without becoming frustrating or boring. If not, you were in for a very confusing evening. The show’s rather concise running time of one hour-fifty minutes seemed to serve as a preemptive solution to this problem, and I found it relatively easy to allow myself to become immersed in Slava’s world.
The clowns shone throughout the performance as the audience began to get a sense of their characters. They were fascinating to behold: they were completely otherworldly, their body movements and facial expressions as large as a caricature but somehow not as crude. That the actors managed to so effectively embody these sub-human creatures was technically impressive and mesmerising to watch. I found it impossible to fault any of their performances.
The show owes nearly as much to the costumes and scenery as to the clowns themselves. The use of bright primary colours in both the costumes and set gave the performance a paradoxical feeling of being incredibly bright and stripped-back and stark, which contributed to the overall sense of fantasy and the abstract. The clowns’ make-up, which enhanced their fantastical facial expressions, is also deserving of a special mention.
There was something unmistakably Russian about the whole performance, as one would no doubt expect from Slava’s Snow Show. I was impressed by the way that this added to the feeling of foreign other-worldly fantasy for a British viewer, and perhaps indeed also served to enhance the comedy. There was something quite amusing about the severity of Russian culture and art being applied to clownery, which seemed to be go down well amongst the adults in the audience.
Music was used incredibly effectively throughout, and the show boasts a soundtrack that was deeply haunting, and at times genuinely moving. The finale, the standout moment of the performace, was the perfect culmination of lights, set, props, acting, and sound, and felt to be as much art as theatre in that existed purely for arts-sake.
And it is this that shines through the most in Slava’s Snow Show: the sense that you are watching, and participating in, a piece of art.
At the same time, the performance was light-hearted and silly; a curious blend of both pantomime and serious art. It seemed that the children in the audience were extremely entertained throughout, laughing hysterically at times and quietly enchanted at others. A major aspect of the performance was the audience participation, though the most daunting of audience tasks were reserved for those sitting on the front row, and I am relieved to say, were avoided by those sitting further back.
Slava’s Snow Show claims to be enjoyable for both children and adults alike. Generally, I would agree. The final scene of the show, however, involved giant (truly giant; the size on an entire room giant) balloons being thrown into the audience to be volleyed about which was an incredible visual spectacle for all ages for the first minute, and then quickly became a novelty more intended for children. One can only volley an oversized balloon in a theatre for so long.
Despite this, Slava’s Snow Show is a truly remarkable piece of theatre, that can and should enjoyed by people of all ages. Just don’t question it too much.
Slava’s Snow Show is being performed at Norwich Theatre Royal Tuesday 21st – Saturday 25th November.