This production is a tour-de-force performance by Richard Jordan, who clearly loves the aged clown so much that he’s stepping into his comically large yellow shoes for another run of “Scaramouche Jones“
The clocks are about to strike midnight on 31st December 1999, marking the end of the 20th century, and imminently, we’re told, the end of Scaramouche Jones‘ long and troubled life. As the clown heads back to his dressing room for the final time, on his 100th birthday no less, he begins to retell the story of his life – 50 years to make a clown, 50 years to play the clown.
On his journey through the stories that formed those first 50 years, we learn he was born the son of a “Gypsy whore” in a fishmongers, Port O Spain, Trinidad, with a face so unique in its whiteness that he strikes a level of awe wherever he goes. Then in the space of one day, aged six, he is orphaned, exiled and sold into slavery. Sadly things don’t look much brighter for him later on – sold again to a snake charmer, imprisoned, rescued by a lusty Italian Prince before finding a home of sorts with Gypsy cousins, married to a 12-year-old, before ending up as a gravedigger in a concentration camp and facing trial at Nuremberg.
Over the 90 minutes, Scaramouche weaves a poetic tale of his difficult and eventful life, and how each tragedy added another layer to the painted white face of his clown persona.
Richard Jordan, as the clown himself, is superb – leaping almost effortlessly between the tired performer reaching the end of his days to the man of the stories, hurling himself around the stage and acting out his tales. The mime in the scenes in the concentration camp is particularly poignant and utterly heartbreaking. Jordan commands the attention of the room – with a one-man show with little in the way of set to distract us, you may think that’s a moot point to make, but Jordan entirely holds his audience enraptured. He frequently catches the eye of the audience he’s described as the assembled ghosts of his past, present and future, bewitching us with the sadness in his eyes and drawing us further into his story.
The set is exactly as one would imagine a clown’s dressing room to be – hidden just behind the multicoloured fabric walls of the circus tent, and filled with a multitude of costumes and curios. Sound and lighting, in the hands of Ella Drake, are masterful – sound effects were perfectly timed and elevated the stories Scaramouche was regaling from meer narration to fully formed memories. Scaramouche Jones is lit simply, with just enough variation to transport us from the sea to the heat of North Africa, with some stunning moments in the occasional single spotlight. Kate Billingham‘s direction is subtle, letting Jordan’s storytelling take centre stage, all the while highlighted by the slow removal of his clowning costume, and filled with simple gestures like the lighting of a candle, using a comedy hooter in place of a babe in arms, or even turning a wooden chair into a camel.
While I can’t fault the performance, the story itself just feels too far-fetched – each trial and tribulation is greater than the last, and while designed to pull at the heartstrings, it all simply beggars belief. Scaramouche’s seven white faces, his seven stages of man as it were, are punctuated by key events in 20th-century world history, which does serve as a reminder that these horrific events were happening not all that long ago. Justin Butcher’s writing is poetic, flowery at times, but has a habit of falling into cliches – hook-nosed Arabs and dark, dusky women, fantastical images of a time not so long ago that might be found, albeit not quite as violently, in children’s adventure stories.
In the hands of a lesser performer, Scaramouche Jones could absolutely feel like one yarn woven too far, but Jordan lifts this slightly absurd tale into an emotional memoir. A captivating performance, and an emotional trip through the 20th-century.
Scaramouche Jones by White Cobra Productions runs until Friday 15 June 2018 at The Deco, Abington Sq, Northampton, before touring Ireland. The show returns to Northants on Thursday 28 & Friday 29 June 2018 at 7.30pm at Bonkers Playhouse, Kettering. Tickets are available here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whitecobra
Rebecca is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too. Bec also blogs at StageyRebel