“50 years to make the clown. 50 years to play the clown.”
This closing remark, delivered by the centenarian clown Scaramouche as he waits for the clock to strike midnight and usher in the new millennium, is perhaps the closest to capturing the essence of this astonishing odyssey of the 20th century. Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks recounts the extraordinary life of a man’s journey through crumbling empires, comic misadventures, dark episodes and tragic discoveries on a quest to understand why he is who he is. From tales of his birth in slim alleys of Trinidad and his escapades on the busy streets of Milan, to the haunting memories of concentration camps in Eastern Europe and the exhilaration of finally being on English soil, this text not only gives us a glimpse into what went behind shaping Scaramouche’s seven white masks but also reveals a profoundly moving anthology of the last century’s biggest happenings through his eyes. Twenty years on from its acclaimed premiere in Edinburgh, starring the late actor Pete Postlethwaite, the play returns to Wilton’s Musical Hall in Shadwell with Justin Butcher playing the titular role of his script. The original creative team is joined by Guy Masterson for this special revival that hopes to bring humor and hope to the lives of audiences members, whose return to live theatre after an exceptionally tough, unprecedented year can be compared to the trials and tribunals suffered by Scaramouche as he found himself in situations outside his control.
Justin Butcher is simply brilliant as Scaramouche, delivering a 100-minute-long monologue without breaking a sweat. His command and delivery of the text is exceptional, using his body and voice effectively to open up the rapid, frenetic pace of Scaramouche’s life story to the audience which isn’t an easy job. What’s most striking is Butcher’s subtle ways of referencing the concepts and ideas of commedia dell’arte in both the text, such as the use of masks to delineate different parts of Scaramouche’s life as well as the subtle nod to Figaro’s marriage, and his own performance, which brings together a contemporary acting storytelling style with traditional movement and mime work. This is complemented by a stellar set and costume based on the original design by Ashley Martin-Davis that provides the performer the freedom to establish the clowning vocabulary and tropes that an audience is able to connect with instantly, as well as the ability to effectively use the space to traverse between different eras and locations. With Tom Turner’s light design and Damian Hale’s video design, the end result is a visual spectacle that is delightful to watch, combining hand-drawn projections and swift lighting changes that immerse the audience into the larger themes and concepts being introduced by the titular character.
To summarize, this revival of Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks is as dazzling and haunting as the day it premiered twenty years ago and promises to leave you with a lot of questions around loss, identity and change… perhaps with a stronger appreciation for the magical in the mundane.
Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks runs at Wilton’s Music Hall E1 8JB till 26th June 2021. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/682-scaramouche-jones-or-the-seven-white-masks
Presented by Passion Pit Theatre in association with Theatre Tours International
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 15th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★