ONLY connect, said E M Forster, quoted by Frank in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita: only connect, the motto written on Forster’s monument in Stevenage, and the two words which sum up not only much of Forster’s output, and Rita’s attempt at education, but also every tiny piece of the magical, mystical, deep, yet seemingly simple, Snow Show, which spends a week at Bath before settling on the South Bank in London over Christmas and into January. Forster’s original quote was about connecting prose and passion, getting feeling and emotion into a work of literature, but Slava Polunin, clown, mime artist, comic and fool, manages to connect emotionally at a deep level and trigger feelings not usually experienced in public, a scary level, like bumping into that ex-partner you know can get deep inside you at an emotional level.
With no words, a soundtrack of music and effects, some familiar, such as Moonlight Sonata and the theme tune to Chariots of Fire, Slava and his seven fellow performers, chosen from his Academy of Fools in Moscow, which he founded in 1989, act out various scenes, using extremes of sound, from absolute silence to ear-trembling loudness, and light, from darkness to huge floodlights shining from the stage into the audience, and touch, from tiny actions we can never feel to actual paper snow landing on us, and balls which are bounced around the auditorium. The scenes seem very ordinary, two people meeting and stroking each other, a boat crossing the stage and being threatened by a bigger boat, a telephone conversation between a high-pitched person and a low-pitched one, acted out with spoken nonsense by Slava himself, but all the while he is there, in his oversized yellow onesie, which allows him to grow and shrink in size and to conceal things within, and we are drawn in to this ordinariness, suddenly feeling deep empathy with one or more of the characters, one minute laughing heartily and aloud, giggling at foolishness, the next sighing with sadness as something goes wrong for a character.
There are clever moments of genius, and the artistic skill is so good that it almost goes unnoticed, until you realise that every step is choreographed, and taken with care and attention, and each character has been created and moulded over the twenty years of the show’s life. The climax, the actual snow show, is just that, a build up of the famous music from Carmina Burana, known by people of my age as the Old Spice music, a darkening of the lights before the extreme, direct, blinding, onstage floodlights, and suddenly a storm of paper snow, everywhere, blowing, falling, encircling the audience at every level.
Other than the few words of description I have used above, there is little else I can say other than to urge people to go along and experience this show – it is truly unique. Yes, there are the traditional elements of slapstick, arm-in-coat interplay and simple rivalry, as you would expect from a show by clowns, but this is no circus, this is a true, deep, and very touching connection with life, at a very deep and personal level. All I could remember from seeing this show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995 was that everyone had come out smiling, feeling better about themselves and life in general, and it was exactly the same tonight in Bath. Please try and go – either in Bath, at the Royal Festival Hall, or anywhere you find it around the world in future – whatever your age, “from one to ninety-two”, you will connect with Slava.