Our official reviewer was engaged at a family party – the Online Admin filled in for this review.
The second night of the Easter Festival presented White Cobra Productions with Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher. Scaramouche, a pale-faced child named after the stock clown character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, steps out of the circus ring to enthrall his audience with the tale of his extraordinary life. Butcher is known for his works of social commentary, especially around the subject of war and Scaramouche touches on some of the darkest episodes of the 20th century.
Scaramouche is a one-man show with many tales of comedy and tragedy, relationships and reinvention of the self. The many masks of Scaramouche punctuate his life and are shed in order to reveal the truth of the character. Richard Jordan plays the title character, directed ably by Kate Billingham.
The curtain rose on an extremely engaging set, all the accoutrements of a circus dressing room were there – costumes, a podium for circus animals, a costume table with the traditional mirror surrounded with bulbs (though a few not working and in different colours to show the imperfections of time), suitcases bursting forth with more costumes and a joke squirting flower which particularly stood out as a simple but effective scene setter. It was a sight to behold and as the production progressed, offered up more and more as items were skillfully used to create the many scene from all over the world. A favourite was the easy transformation of a chair to a camel – engaging one of the most enjoyable parts of theatre; suspension of disbelief. The ropes and podium created height visually and physically for the actor at times, the coloured backdrop created a lovely traditional circus tent and circus posters either side added to the scene setting – though I thought there could have been more of them and they could have been a touch larger to make it clearer what they were for. However, the whole stage was engaged and gave interest and excitement, really well thought out.
The Lighting and Sound, undertaken by Philip Welsh, was a masterclass in timing and subtlety. Never overpowering, always complementing and enhancing, the sound effects which set scenes such as markets and naval battles were brought in and tapered out with great skill. The lighting moved from cold to warm with each changing emotional tale and at one point I almost didn’t notice the light draw to a single spot on our character as the tale drew to an emotional pinnacle, such was the connection between the lighting and the actor. My only note was that the music at the end stopped abruptly in the middle of a bar which jarred a little for me – I realise that it was necessary to end it abruptly and the actor was in control of when he felt it was the right moment, however possibly a rethink on the choice of the section of music for me would help the denouement. A tiny point and the ending was still hugely powerful.
When I heard there was a one-man show in this years festival I was hugely excited – tackling such a feat in entertaining an audience for 90 minutes without interval and alone takes a courageous actor. I had already seen White Cobra Productions a few years ago with their excellent performance of The Days of Wine and Roses which won the festival that year, so I knew they had the talent within their group. As Richard entered the stage he cut a lonely and sad figure, surveying the stage and expertly allowing us time to take in the amazing set and his understated mood. The costume and make-up was perfect from the nose, clown feet and white face paint, to the simple suit with suspenders, a waistcoat and the choice of a bare chest, which communicated to me his openness; his heart was on show, he was there to share himself.
As he began his story it was clear that this actor is adept at dealing with a large theatre, his projection was flawless and I didn’t miss a word. His pace and tone varied appropriately for each story he told and kept the audience enthralled and eager to hear more. The adjudicator did mention that his pace was a little fast at times and while I appreciate this comment, I do feel that it was far better to err on the side of a little fast than a little slow. His clear familiarity with the text enabled a full belief in the lifelong role as storyteller that Scaramouche embodies and the adjudicator complimented that as far as he could see Richard kept true to the script, which I can imagine is hugely hard when trying to elicit a truthful performance. The sheer amount of lines should also be highlighted, this is not a play that goes easy on the actor with many breaks in dialogue. The pauses that were employed were well used and really allowed the audience to take in those poignant moments of high emotion. I will mention again that I thought the moment right at the end could have been a few seconds longer and more timed with the music but it’s such a small point, my tears for the clown came in any case.
The physicality of the role was significant, the actor needed to create so many different worlds for us and though ably assisted with sensitively chosen props, additional costumes and furniture – the story must emanate from his performance and not rely on material things. The snake was a particular highlight and the police station beating suitably visceral and not overdone which could have been a danger. All the other characters in the many stories also had to be brought to life and as the adjudicator said, Richard can certainly handle a wide range of accents. Each character was sensitively thought out with changes to physical movement also supporting those accents.
The direction was flawless – the adjudicator mentioned what a fantastic collaboration between the pair there must have been to create such a show and let us in on the fact that they are partners, as well as theatrical collaborators. I had the benefit of speaking to them at the Green Room following the show and this is clearly a production close to their hearts as their company is named after the snake so vividly portrayed in the play. The adjudicator did feel that the mime at the end of the show was a little too short and some more moves to mark the changes of scene would have benefitted the story – I think again these points would enhance future productions but were minor and didn’t detract from this performance.
It was a great shame this production did not have a larger audience, it was gripping, emotional and brought a great deal of people to their feet in a standing ovation at its conclusion. To have such a skillful team that brought all the elements of theatre together to make a truly fantastic show, I felt so fortunate to have been able to see it. As I shouted when I jumped to my feet at the end – bravo!
- Vanessa Williams, Online and Social Media Admin