BWW Previews: SLAVA'S SNOWSHOW at the Southbank Centre 17 December - 6 January
Slava's Snowshow is back for a third winter in London, having continued its worldwide success since its creator first came to London in 2011. BWW's Gary Naylor spoke to the show's mastermind, Slava Polunin, before his London debut a couple of years ago and here's what he had to say.
When I was a child, I was performing and getting awards and when it came to choose a career, clowning seemed very attractive. I chose clowning because I would see thousands of happy faces smiling at me, every day.
In my clowning, I had to be sincere and not bow to pressure. I had to do what I liked in a way that I liked. A clown needs no director nor producer - he is the one who creates everything. His reaction is a reflection of all things happening around him. When the Russian clown Karandash was working with other actors and performers under direction, the only thing the director would say is - "Here is Karandash". Karandash himself did not know what he would do - he reacted to the audience, which was different every night.
This was absolute freedom. There is no profession like this one - the clown is a symbol of freedom. When I first appeared in St Petersburg, the theatre was always full with no advertising. The audience found in us the freedom and sincerity lacking in those times.
In one sketch, a clown would follow another onstage and as one clown attempted to pick something up, the other clown said "No way!" and stopped him. No matter what the first one wanted, he was forbidden by the second standing right behind him. At the end, the clown exploded with rage, screaming one word "Zah!" which became popular all over Russia, with people using it everywhere after the sketch appeared on television in 1981. For five years, the sketch was shown every New Year's Eve and became something akin to one of Aesop's Fables. It was the fault of politicians that this sketch became politicised, because it's a philosophical idea - you are always banned from doing something by someone! The sketch is about what happens to everyone.
I came back to Russia in 2001 after ten years on tour, thinking maybe I was no longer relevant since there was freedom - but it had turned into anarchy. But on the black market, tickets for the show were changing hands for $2000!
My principle is not to try to understand what is going on around me, but inside me - my spirit is the most important thing for me. In the 80s, I needed freedom to protect my humanity, but later I had to protect my freedom against rampant commercialism. That's why I created The Academy of Fools - to counteract the power of money and the influence it has on people. Money gives you options, but it can't make you happy. I tried to retain the attitudes and innocence of a child as a bulwark against the men with briefcases.
India's culture is different. Plot is less important and Western storytelling techniques don't work. Our first performance in India failed, so we decided to go to a village and communicate directly - we hugged every villager. Then we kidnapped the village chief's daughter and the villagers came after us. We had our connection!
The audience is all-important, as the Indian experience showed. I research new audiences, changing the approach for France or the USA or Spain. In England, I need actors who understand Alice in Wonderland and Edward Lear. Stay true to yourself, but touch everyone around you.
When I was young, I didn't like traditional clowns, those with no sincerity. They offered nothing new. We needed a new language, new stories. My clowning draws on Fellini and Monty Python. The Snowshow is twenty years old, but every night for me is like a first date with my beloved. I am fascinated by how the show changes. Every member of the audience can get something from it - kids like special effects, older people the pathos, the academic its new language, its artistic sensibility.