Magical clowning show that speaks to the child in all of us

Slava's Snow Show.  Photo: A. Lopez
Slava's Snow Show. Photo: A. Lopez
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IT opens with a clown arriving on stage with a noose around his neck – and finishes with grown men and women mesmerised, watching the clown with the wonder of a child.

Slava’s Snow Show is one of the most mesmerising – and slightly difficult to categorise – theatre pieces to come to Yorkshire in recent years.

When it does come, however, and it has visited our region a number of times in recent years, it leaves behind a whole new generation of fans.

Having been performed to more than 3 million spectators in 30 countries across the world, Slava’s Snow Show is coming to Sheffield’s Lyceum this week.

The show is seen in theatres like the traditional prosceium arched Lyceum and is definitely a piece of theatre, but it would be hard pushed to be described as a traditional piece of storytelling. That it is a piece of theatre is underlined by the awards it arrives in Sheffield carrying: Time Out, Olivier and Drama Desk awards for Most Unique Theatrical Experience.

Whenever it rolls into town – and it has visited Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre on a number of occasions in recent years, it also always comes with the promise that it is like ‘nothing else you have seen’.

Led by Slava Polunin, Artistic Director of the St Petersburg Circus, this show transports audiences to a winter wonderland of epic proportions. Featuring dazzling light displays and snow storms, as well as Slava’s company of mischievous clowns, this show captures the imagination and theatres report grown men and women transfixed like children at the spectacle of the clowns. Slava is no ordinary clown. He turns the world upside down. He has been called “anarchic” and also “a genius”. Slava Polunin was born in the USSR 56 years ago Neither of his parents, he says, were entertainers; although in later years his mother told him that his dad was quite musical. Toys were scarce, and young Slava made his own entertainments, using his fertile imagination, making up stories, relying on folklore, and running free in the local woods. He became expert at building tree houses, and put on shows for his friends.

When he was packed off “as a fairly bright kid”, to study engineering in Leningrad, he shortly thereafter joined a mime troupe instead. Even at the age of 17, he had decided that his mission was to rediscover what true clowns and comics did, and what gifts and talents they had that could make people laugh. And cry.

“My work cannot really be called clowning, for my main objective is to break down borders and restrictions. But a clown is really like a child – we have immediacy and a freedom, as children do. It is impossible for a child to sit still for more than five minutes, and, like clowns they always demand to be the centre of attention. Think of five children – or five clowns – in the middle of a room? Phew! Impossible! But, like children, we also want to be loved. But I am extremely blessed, because I am happy, and joyous, and also extremely lucky,” says Slava.

“The last time I was in the UK I met a doctor, he’d been to see the show and then he said ‘In the last few weeks, I’ve not been writing prescriptions for tablets, I’ve been telling them ‘Go see Slava – if that doesn’t make you forget your problems, nothing will!’ Isn’t that wonderful?”

Slava’s Snow Show (not suitable for under eight year olds), Lyceum, Sheffield, to Dec 24. 0114 2496000.