Justin Butcher @ Higher Ground – Theatre
7:45pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010
Scaramouche Jones proved to be another massive word-of-mouth hit of the 2010 Fringe & Festival season; one of those shows that left almost everyone gushing, certain that they’d seen something of such magnificence that it was beyond compare.
Almost everyone, that is.
When we meet Scaramouche Jones, it’s an hour before midnight on Millennium Eve. Jones – a weary and aged clown of import, commanding great respect – meticulously removes his makeup whilst telling the chapters of his life. From his birth in Trinidad, through his childhood with his prostitute mother, onto a ship with a Somalian slave trader and snake charmer, running through Italy with gypsies, working in a concentration camp, to his revered clowning in London… one tale per chapter, one chapter per mask.
Now, let’s not mince words, here. Scaramouche Jones was superb theatre: a stunning solo performance of a superbly realised character, supported by a gorgeous set, perfect lighting, a wonderfully subtle backing soundtrack, and wonderful makeup. And it’s a deeply visual story too, as Justin Butcher paints vivid worlds with words as he unmasks, leaving us spellbound as he weaves the tale of Jones’ life.
So – why did I leave the theatre feeling like I had missed something?
See, I can recognise all of the above superlatives; I can rationally observe them. And I was expecting them to coalesce into a massive lump in my throat, or a quickening of my pulse, or something… but they didn’t. Instead, I noticed a distinct lack of emotional engagement, even as I marvelled at the technical accomplishment of the play.
Maybe my distance from the stage conferred an emotional detachment, too; my seat was far from optimal, given my late and rushed arrival. But it was good enough that I could certainly see that all the pieces were there… but I couldn’t make them work for me – emotionally.
What a spectacle; what a performance. And what a shame that it, ultimately, left me unmoved by the character.