This show is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has received international acclaim in over 80 countries. This particular tour was promoted with the tag line 'back by popular demand' and is booked for the Christmas period at The Royal Albert Hall, all this seemed high praise indeed and therefore worth a visit. However from the beginning I felt this show was massively style over substance, it lacked a clear story, it lacked a clear vision as to who it was aimed at, the jokes/tricks were highly repetitive and the show length rather short. Normally an advocate of experimental and interactive theatre, this proved one of the least enjoyable theatre experiences I have encountered.
We had seats at the front of the raised circle which would for most shows provide a perfect view at a mid range price. I was surprised the Woking Theatre was relatively quiet with lots of seats empty and a very mixed crowd, anything from a retired couple, to groups of teenagers and families with relatively young children. The show advertises itself as suitable for 8-88 and this was clearly represented in the cliental, however it seemed that with such a wide scope the show in fact satisfied no one fully. Children fidgeted through the quieter periods of mime and got very frustrated that the interactive elements such as the snow, water, spiders web, clowns and giant balloons only really effected the lower stalls. Teenagers looked disapproving throughout and older people looked awkward and confused. It seemed that for this show we were watching someone else's party happening below. There is no way this show is suitable for a traditional style theatre with any balcony seats and if programmed in such a building only seats for the stalls should be sold. It became a very limited experience from above, though I would also point out that some around me seemed relieved not to have this level of creative abuse forced upon them, but without out it, what was this show actually about?
The set was made up of a series of fabric covered flats hung in a way which made them move and swing in a storm, give performers access to the stage and turn round to reveal a different scene. The look was very stylised with simple shapes and a rough finish, for me this did not give a quirky childlike nostalgia, rather a cheap and quite tacky look. The edge of the flats were lined with what looked like a fur type fabric and at one point the main clown got tangled up in this white fabric which transformed into a giant spiders web. This web was stretched and pulled by the chorus of clowns to envelope the audience seated in the stalls. This was quite beautiful to look at, very creative and must have been an interesting experience for the people sat underneath who had to raise their arms and help the web on its way, then escape from it for the interval.
Props were used extremely well throughout, with for example the use of billowing fabric to create the movement and power of a snow storm. There was an obvious sense that the materials and objects used had provided much of the inspiration and play within the devising and rehearsal periods. The mimed sections nearly all happened around a central prop such as a leaning table which offered a falling over gag or a set of two fabric telephones which provoked silly voices. The nicest section of the whole show featured a large suitcase from which came a coat stand, coat and hat. The clown hung the hat and coat and magically brought these inanimate items to life, transforming them into his female lover. The scene represented was that of a farewell at a railway station, signalled in the most part by sound effects. The mime performance was excellent and it was one of those rare but wonderful times in theatre where you know what your seeing and how it is created yet are at the same time totally mesmerised by how real it looks.
The main prop and gag was of course the snow, thousands if not millions of little pieces of white tissue paper were chucked, blown, dropped, thrown, brushed, tipped and dumped on the audience. When it came billowing down from above, floating and twisting as it fell it was very pretty for everyone to watch. At first the playful clowning below involving the snow was quite funny but it wore very thin and felt very much like the whole show was a one trick pony. The audience below by the end were totally and utterly covered in this stuff and even picking up great handfuls themselves to dump on their children and friends. The main storm which included significant amounts of smoke, wind and snow was very dramatic and great that it actually reached our raised seats however I could imagine any young children finding this experience quite scary. Again it was short lived and didn't seem to result in anything for the story or characters. Repeatedly we saw nice visual effects such as these which were there, generated a wow and then were gone with no real impact other than more mess in the theatre.
The first half was only 40minutes long and the second half less than an hour which made us feel a little short changed on what is advertised as a 'big' show. This was further aggravated by the last section which took up at least 15minutes and involved huge balls being sent out into the audience. visually this was nice for a short time but again our raised seats made this activity very limited. I was very aware of children in front of me getting very frustrated they couldn't reach these giant balloons and of the poor parents desperately clinging onto the backs of their clothes so they wouldn't fly off the side of the balcony as they strained to reach out and touch the balloons. This seemed to go on for ages and nothing else happened. The clowns on stage even seemed a bit lost, not really doing anything other than sending balloons back in a bit of a half hearted way. They sort of did a bit of a song at one point but it was lost in the balloons and obviously not really a main thing, perhaps just improvised. There was no performance, we were just watching the audience below playing with balloons, everyone around me in the royal circle looked similarly disgruntled by this finale.