Wednesday, 18 June 2003

Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher, June 18, 2003

Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher  
With Pete Postlethwaite
Athenaeum Theatre I, June 8 to 29 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 18

Pete Postlethwaite  is exceptional as the ancient clown, Scaramouche Jones in Justin Butcher's play, of the same name.

He is alone on stage for ninety minutes and his performance is rivetting. The warm, honeyed tones of his voice compel one to enter the world of this eccentric, tragic old entertainer. Postelthwaite leads us on a picturesque journey from the birth of Scaramouche on a fish monger's table in Trinidad  at the end of 1899 to his swan song on the eve of 2000.

The irony is that this silent clown is portrayed through a torrent of poetic language. His inner world is flooded with language. His public world is stony silent. Butcher's script is vivid, painting elaborate word pictures to evoke the world of Scaramouche.

Butcher's language is lyrical and rich, colourful but sometimes unnecessarily convoluted. Its complexity sometimes interferes with the character and his action. Because the language is so dense, there is very little stage action.

The play is set inside a circus dressing tent, designed by Ashley Martin-Davis.  Director, Rupert Goold  punctuates Postlethwaite's self-narration with moments of captivating clown mime. His all too brief dumb shows portrayed his mother receiving her brothel clients, a hanging and even his own death.

The most significant mime occurs when Scaramouche, as a grave-digger in a Nazi concentration camp, parodies the German guards for the children about to die by their grave-side. He creates for them in silence, their own execution scene. It is tragic, funny and moving.

Scaramouche Jones tells the politics and history of a century through the eyes and life of one outsider. He is born in poverty and love of a West Indian gypsy mother and an unknown Englishman.

When his mother is murdered, he is sold to a sailor then finally sold to a snake charmer with whom he works until adulthood. He has vague understandings of both wars, is almost seduced by an Italian prince, is rescued by his beloved Gypsies  and ends up incarcerated in Spandau prison  convicted of war crimes.

His eerily white face is his trademark. As he ages and moves from one episode of his life journey to another, he changes one white mask for another. His seventh is on arrival in England, a free man finally. He puts on a clown white face and never takes it off.

This is a poignant and absorbing theatre performed by a consummate actor.

By Kate Herbert

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