Extreme weather warning: There’s a snow storm coming and it promises drama, comedy and touches of tragedy on an epic scale. Yes, Slava’s Snowshow is back with the 20th anniversary production of the internationally acclaimed theatrical extravaganza. 

First things first. If you, or your child, suffer from coulrophobia (a fear of those funny fellas with painted white faces, oversized red cherry noses and impossibly large comedy shoes), then Slava’s Snowshow is definitely not for you. 
If, however, you enjoy the tragi-comedy of mute characters who can only implore or gesture in exaggerated melodrama, with touches of slapstick and bathos in equal measure, then the spectacle of this piece has much to offer.

At the heart of the drama is Russian artist (and Artistic Director of St Petersburg Circus) Slava Polunin. Dubbed “the best clown in the world”, Polunin plays protagonist Asisyai, a clown clad in yellow boiler suit and red fluffy slippers. As a passionate proponent of theatrical mime, his performance delivers a nod to classic artistry greats, such as Marcel Marceau, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, as well as subtle literary echoes of Samuel Beckett’s Theatre of the Absurd (our first glimpse of Slava sees him toying playfully with a noose before becoming engrossed in a comic tug-of-war with another clown contemplating the same fate). A cast of other characters wear matching long green coats, big noses, impossibly big shoes, and deerstalker-style hats with comically elongated ears that make them look like frisky cartoon Bassett Hounds.

Clearly, Slava’s Snowshow has a darker side. It’s a mash-up of poignant and thought-provoking vignettes, alongside plenty of visual and physical slapstick comedy. The narrative is slightly vague too. Eight-year-old Joe turned to me at one point and said “I don’t understand it”, to which I could only shrug and agree. As it is wordless, any ambiguities are open to interpretation – is it a commentary on the human condition? Could Slava be an anti-hero in yellow dungarees among an identikit throng of green coats? Is there a hint of unrequited love as he re-enacts a painful farewell to an empty coatstand?

This highly imaginative spectacle of theatre demands audience interaction, with large-scale props like a giant cobweb that unfurls to engulf the entire audience, a paper snow shower that turns into a dramatic blizzard and a rainbow of giant orbs that bounce around the auditorium at the end of the show for playtime!

It’s not just the props (like two giant foam telephones) that are larger-than-life. The musical accompaniment is loud, loud, loud. The theatre almost trembles with sound and dazzling white light during a spine-tingling dramatic rendition of Carmina Burana’s “Oh Fortuna” as the snowstorm begins, but there are gentler moments with tinkling Vangelis (and a slow motion sprint to Chariots of Fire) and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” adding poignancy. There’s also a touch of retro Euro kitsch with a hauntingly singsong 50s favourite “Blue Canari” with accordion accompaniment, and the Brazilian anthem “Mas Que Nada”.

Recommended for an audience eight years and older, Slava’s brand of eccentric pantomime, which he lovingly refers to as Expressive Idiotism, is perhaps an acquired taste. If your children enjoy slightly absurd slapstick, accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack, the Snowshow should go down a storm. As one Canadian viewer wrote in a note to Slava: “Your snow warms our hearts. Thank you.”

Slava’s Snowshow premiered in the UK in 1994 and has since toured the country, delighting audiences of all ages and winning an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment during its run at the Old Vic in 1998. The Tony Award nominated show has won accolades the world over receiving the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience in 2005 and The Stanislavski Award in Slava’s native Russia in 2001. The show’s popularity overseas has seen it performed in 120 cities in 30 countries to more than 3 million spectators in over 4,000 performances.

Why Go For an eye-popping spectacle of old-style mime, slapstick comedy and clowning at its absurd best.

Who is it Best For Those who appreciate the (nearly lost) art of mime.

Top Tip Don’t be surprised to see grown men from the audience tussling to bat the giant orbs during the ‘playtime’ session at the end of the show. Unfortunately, this means that those with shorter stature and arms (in which I include myself and my son) don’t stand much of a chance!

Our Favourite Bit The legitimate excuse to throw fistfuls of paper snow at each other, scooping it up in greedy handfuls. The outside foyer was also filled with ‘snow’ for plenty of impromptu snowball fights.

Don’t Go If you have a clown phobia or take yourself too seriously.

While You’re There Take in the festive vibe of theSouth Bank Winter Festival which runs til Sunday 11 January 2015. Stroll along the South Bank to admire the glittering blue lights and the wintry white Christmas tree that stands magnificently outside the Royal Festival Hall. Around the corner, you’ll find goodies galore at the Christmas Market or lose yourself in the Christmas Tree Maze (£4 per person). You could also drop in for a bite to eat at Giraffe, which resides just beneath the Hall.

Photography by V Vial | A Lopez | Vladimir Mishukov