Justin Butcher’s tale of Scaramouche Jones is one hell of a story and he tells it masterfully.
It is New Year’s Eve 1999 and the old clown, Scaramouche Jones, has just given his final performance. This night marks his one-hundredth birthday, and as he waits for the millennium fireworks to explode into the night sky he will tell the story of his life, before lying down to die.
And what a story it was! Born in Trinidad to a ‘gypsy whore’, his little white face proved something of a shock. He described this as his first ‘mask’ – his seventh, and final mask, was to be that of a clown. In between: he is sold to an Arab; moved on to a snake-charmer in Senegal where he witnessed the coronation of Haile Selassie; escapes from an Admiral on Christmas Day in Venice; moves through Poland and Croatia to a job as a digger of mass graves at a Nazi concentration camp; has his own trial at Nuremburg and is released to start a new life in England.
And at this point, he accepts his final mask – it took ‘fifty years to make the clown, fifty years to play the clown.’ Dressed in the traditional clown costume, with a red nose, tufty hair and big clownshoes, he sheds these items as he tells his tale, one by one, so that in death he may finally lie unmasked.
Justin Butcher wrote this play some years ago, the original production in 2008 starring the late, great, Pete Postlethwaite. Following in such illustrious footsteps may have been a daunting prospect, but if Butcher felt that it certainly didn’t show, as he played the role artfully, with self-assured, consummate skill.
The story itself was fantastic, in the true sense of the word – that is, extraordinary and unbelievable. While, on the one hand, this was fascinating and entertaining; on the other, as one improbable situation was followed another more preposterous than the last, it was impossible to take at face value and therefore difficult to engage and empathise with.
This was a great performance of a very tall tale.
Runs until 24th August at 3.30pm