Review: ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ at Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre

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Joseph Szekeres

  • Chief Toronto Critic

Performers: Slava Polunin, Robert Saralp, Vanya Polunin, Georgiy Deliyev, Nikolai Terentiev, Sergey Shashelev, Aelita West, Andrei Klimak

The delightful art of clownery and absurdity is treated with the utmost respect and seriousness in ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ now onstage at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

The press release details that ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ “is set within an absurd and surrealistic world of IDIOTS ON THE LOOSE…a work of art in which each scene paints a picture…which becomes a visual and musical extravaganza overflowing with theatrical magic and humorous antics”. I couldn’t agree more with this definition as I spent a most enjoyable evening experiencing an art form of which I know very little.  I did want to learn more about clownery and this production offered that experience.

For me, clownery is more than just the character of Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. The performers in this production don clothes that are ripped, ragged and torn and wear makeup and masks that are absurdly either comic or tragic; however, in this world of Slava, comedy becomes tragedy and tragedy becomes comedy.

If you arrive at the Bluma Appel early, make sure to leave yourself enough time to read the very important program information about Slava Polunin and his journey as a performer into the world of pantomime and how he arrived to where he is today. This quick read made me appreciate even more what I was about to see.

‘Slava’s Snowshow’ is a cornucopia of sights and sounds that are dazzling, mystifying and electric.  I’ll be honest in saying that I was tired at the end of the production as I was trying to take in as much of everything as I possibly could.  The pre-show soundscape of the train wasn’t overpowering but was loud enough to be etched in my brain that I’m travelling somewhere but I have no idea where I was going. The Bluma Appel auditorium was dimly lit in shadows as was the stage. Flats of varying heights lined the back wall. From what I could see on the stage, there were a crescent shaped moon and an eclipse on two of the flats. 

Was I being taken on a trip through the galaxies? I had no idea where I was going but I didn’t care. I was so intrigued in what I was hearing that I willingly let myself go and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it was.

‘Slava’s Snowshow’ is a puzzling theatrical art form, but strangely alluring to watch as I couldn’t take my eyes off the performers. Their movements are precisely choreographed and timed either to the music or the sounds echoing throughout the auditorium. Watching one performer perform goodbyes with a coat rack on a railway platform was curiously captivating for me. The movements of a shark in the sea for some reason brought an enthralling smile to my face.

And the audience interaction and engagement with the performers engaged my attention thoroughly.

I don’t like to use the word ‘shtick’ here. From my limited knowledge of clownery and Theatre of the Absurd, these moments are more than just shtick.  For now, I will use the word ‘bits’ (apologies to those who have studied just in case BITS isn’t the correct word).

My seat was in the orchestra, so I was able to partake in everything from being tangled up in the spider’s web to experiencing what the press release calls “an out of this world snowstorm” (which it was. Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!)

‘Slava’s Snowshow’ continues to December 16 at the Bluma Appel Theatre at St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front Street East, Toronto.  For tickets call 1-855-872-7660 or visit ticketmaster.ca. For further information about the production visit slavasnowshow.com, stlc.com or showoneproductions.ca.

Production runs approximately two hours with one intermission.

Production photo of ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ taken from www.slavasnowshow.com and courtesy of Vladimir Kevorkov.

Stage Director: Viktor Kramer and Stage Designer: Viktor Plotnikov