By Danielle Farrow
Scaramouche Jones is hard to rate as it could easily be a 4 star show at the very least, and in some performances it quite possibly is. There is a verbally rich script, simple yet exciting staging that puts its set to good use, strong design elements, and a fascinating character unveiled through an intriguing and skilfully executed journey. These are often hallmarks of current director Guy Masterson, though the piece was originally directed by Rupert Goold, so which if any of these elements might be new is unknown to this reviewer.
However, on this occasion, there was a problem with delivery in that writer and performer Justin Butcher, for all his fine technical skills – physical embodiments, quick thoughts, clear speech, accent work, confidence with script and language – did not truly engage with his audience.
In a circus tent, with table and long mirror, a chair, a case, a tub with pulleyed rope and a sandbox, the hundred year old clown Scaramouche Jones breaks his fifty years’ silence to speak to us, his audience, whom he calls the ghosts of the past, present and future. He states clearly that he is aware of us – yet that awareness never translates into really speaking to us. Butcher’s delivery has a recitation quality to it which allows great speed, but keeps his audience at a distance rather than drawn into an account for which the reason for breaking such a long silence is mentioned, but not truly felt.
That said, the account itself is mesmerising in its scintillating language and the stories that unfold. The life of Scaramouche Jones, for all the extraordinary whiteness of his skin, is full of colour, splendidly supported by soundscapes that help transport us to various exotic locations and characters. There is an element of tall tales about it (though no questioning of the validity of what we are told is explored) and a touch of the Seven Ages of Man in the seven masks of Scaramouche Jones – a conceit which serves for structuring the piece.
In following this fascinating clown through his lengthy journey from Trinidad to England, his hallowed place, we are treated to an intriguing and entertaining story, against the backdrop – well word-painted – of changing times, and catch glimpses of history alongside detailed personal characters from Jones’ past life, and the affect they and his experiences have had upon him.
Butcher is clearly an accomplished performer, but it seems that the long life of this show requires more to freshen his delivery than was in evidence on this occasion – familiarity with the material needs to be broken in a way that means the thoroughly intriguing Scaramouche once again truly speaks to his ‘ghosts’, and not merely – in however polished a manner – in front of them.
The potential and power of Scaramouche Jones is very clear, and Butcher should have the capability of transcending the pitfalls of familiarity with script and performance to breath fresh life into a play and persona well worth watching.
31 July – 24 August (not 11), 15:30 (17:00) @ Pleasance Courtyard