Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Playing King’s Theatre, Glasgow
The Monarch Of The Glen
Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Until November 12
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Slava’s Snowshow, by the great Russian theatre creator Slava Polunin, is a phenomenon of world drama. Created in 1993, his show has become an international smash hit. Yet it has never made the kind of compromises we have come to expect of big commercial shows from Broadway and the West End.
An enchanted world of night skies and snow-covered landscapes, populated by lugubrious-yet-mischievous clowns, Polunin’s show has remained wonderfully true to its origins. Western commercial theatre tends to have its rough edges smoothed away, all the better to deliver the expected product to the customers.
Snowshow, by beautiful contrast, is as idiosyncratic, eccentric and handmade as ever it was. There is, for example, no concession to the demand for straightforward narrative.
Instead, the yellow clown (originally played by the 67-year-old Polunin himself) and his little army of green clowns offer a series of inspired sketches. Yellow clown is, at the outset, on the verge of committing suicide, only to find that, at the other end of his long rope, is a green clown with exactly the same idea. Simultaneously touching, humane and humorous, this lovely opener is typical of the show as a whole.
The dozens of vignettes that follow include: yellow clown climbing into the audience and cheekily redistributing the jackets and handbags of audience members, the clowns going to sea in an improbably improvised boat and a fabulous snowstorm that feels like Christmas has come early.
There’s surrealism and slapstick, too. In a particularly delicious sketch, yellow clown sits, as if in a surrealist portrait, on a chair that is set at an impossible angle. Of course, to the particular delight of the children in the audience, he slips off onto his backside repeatedly, like a particularly dense, latter day Russian Charlie Chaplin.
All of this is presented with the kind of physically accomplished performance and clever use of music and sound that will be familiar to fans of such wonderful Russian theatre-makers as Derevo, Akhe and Do-Theatre.
Snowshow has grown in size over the years, and it has become justifiably renowned for its moments of grand spectacle. However, its real charm still resides in its starting point, the human possibilities of a sad little yellow clown who, at his lowest moment, finds a friend to play with.
There’s comedy of an altogether different kind in The Monarch Of The Glen, a new stage adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s famous novel by talented Scottish playwright Peter Arnott. Directed for Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) by Richard Baron, this delightful production enjoys a genuinely stellar cast (which includes such outstanding actors as Deirdre Davis, Hannah Donaldson and Robin Harvey Edwards).
Set in early-20th century Scotland, the play finds Chester Royde, an American property developer with a penchant for building golf courses (played with hilarious brilliance by Grant O’Rourke), showing up at Glenbogle Castle, seat of Donald MacDonald, aka Ben Nevis (Benny Young on fabulously posh, reactionary form). What ensues is a farce of romance, chicanery and politics (courtesy of some left-wing English hikers and an absurd, conspiratorial Scottish patriot called Alan).
Designer Ken Harrison’s sets, costumes and comic, miniaturised props are up to PFT’s typically high, hyper-realistic standards. However, the real star of the show is Arnott’s script, which never misses a chance to connect Mackenzie’s satire with Scotland and the world today.
The clash between Ben Nevis’s entitled, unionist Toryism and Alan’s Saor Alba brand of Scottish nationalism has delightfully funny echoes of the shriller moments of the 2014 independence referendum. Meanwhile O’Rourke’s monstrous American is just a Twitter account away from being Donald Trump himself.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 5, 2017
© Mark Brown