Shane Richie follows in the footsteps of Pete Postlethwaite, taking on Justin Butcher’s one-man play Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks for Ginger Quiff Media & Stream.Theatre. It follows productions such as Rose and Little Wars, and will soon be joined by Eurobeat: The Pride of Europe and A Killer Party. A year into the UK’s response to coronavirus, and digital theatre is going from strength to strength.
Born in Port of Spain on the 31st December 1899, Scaramouche Jones is now approaching his 100th birthday – and contemplating his imminent death. While the world gears up for the fireworks of Y2K, the veteran clown is in a contemplative mood; video camera set up and ready, Scaramouche prepares to share the story of his extraordinary existence: “the epilogue to my life”. A century-long journey that has taken him from Trinidad to London, via Senegal, Djibouti, Venice, Krakow & Split – during which time he has been enslaved, imprisoned & made complicit in war crimes, finding and shedding various ‘white masks’, before finding his true calling as a clown.
Whilst I can imagine the incredible intimacy that would exist and be played with if this were being performed as a theatre production, the idea of Scaramouche recording his late-night ramblings & remembrances (giving one last performance), as well as some CCTV-esque footage occasionally thrown in, means that it works perfectly as a digital production. It’s also an interesting choice of revival; not a typical classic or something particularly well-known, but a play that taps into things that many of us will have experienced over the past twelve months – facing up to your own mortality, recalling the history that you’ve lived through, and being on the cusp of a new dawn. This dark twist on the seven ages of man shows how much atrocity was seen by people living through the 20th century, whilst simultaneously demonstrating the human knack for survival.
Andrew Exeter’s design makes the set something of an extension of Scaramouche’s character: the use of black, white & red is really striking, echoing his clown get-up and making a bold statement. Coupled with this is some thoughtful lighting design, as well as wonderful direction (Ian Talbot) and choice of camera angles at particular moments. My only real quibble is that the background music that plays out at certain points in the show is far too loud – as it keeps playing when Richie re-enters his monologue, the volume needs to dip significantly as it’s currently in competition with the actor. Otherwise the sound design (Harry Regan) & music choices help to create an atmosphere and assist in the storytelling, particularly hearing the voice of Scaramouche’s mother (voiced by Samara Casteallo) at various junctures.
It is a momentous performance from Shane Richie; gone is the cheeky chappie persona and in its place is a charismatic entertainer who has pretty much seen it all. Richie is a captivating storyteller, gripping the audience as soon as Scaramouche makes his way back to his dressing room – his tales of life as an apprentice snake charmer are amusing, his physicality in “the mime of the comic execution” is top-notch, and his response to his time in Split is surprisingly affecting. A truly all-round performance in an exceptional production.
My verdict? An exceptional production and a timely revival – Shane Richie gives a momentous performance.
Scaramouche Jones is streaming from 26 March – 11 April 2021. Tickets are available from the official website.