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Scaramouche Jones was originally performed by the iconic British character actor Pete Postlethwaite in 2001 when it toured internationally. This new production of Justin Butcher's play is brought to life by Colin Friels, in his first solo theatre performance.
Having given his final performance, Scaramouche Jones, a 100-year-old clown, removes his white mask for the last time and reflects on his life. Butcher's rich script coupled with the moving presentation by Colin Friels, immerses the audience into the life of this clown. The words and storytelling are so vivid, that we traverse from Scaramouche's birth to his death in this poignant 80-minute performance.
With a quivering voice of emotion, Friels recalls how Scaramouche popped into this world to a gypsy mother, who worked in fishmonger shop by day which transformed into a whorehouse by night and she was the chief attraction. Nothing vexed him more than to find which of the myriad of the filthy visitors might he call his father. Although his mother did not think it important, she did tell Scaramouche that his father was an Englishman.
When his mother was discovered dead after a night's work, Scaramouche was ushered on a boat to go to an orphanage, entrusted to a reverend father. The 'kind' missionary sold him to an Arab slave trader. The trader found the boy with the pale face interesting and was going to use him as a street performer.
Friels does not let his audience cry. He humours us with wit and anecdotes. Alas, it is black humour. Scaramouche pondered how his noble, English father has, in fact, provisioned for him. Through the inherited virtues of his white face, he was now employed.
Little Scaramouche was then sold to a snake charmer. Becoming his slave, apprentice, son and his most cherished possession (except of course for the snake!).
Then, like something from a comic book, Friels recalls how one day, the snake, whose pet name was Benjamin Disraeli, jumped out of his basket during a performance and slithered away into the crowd at an alarming speed, scaring people. The snake was never found. As punishment, the snake charmer was hung and Scaramouche was thrown into a dungeon. That was the end of that gig.
In the last 20 minutes of the play, we hear about his final, tragic employment. Through the passage of time and coincidence, he found himself amongst Jews, gypsies and homosexual prisoners on the way to a concentration camp.The Nazi Germans found nothing wrong in his white face and yet could not promote him to an Aryan status. And so, he was employed as a gravedigger at Auschwitz. We learn how he witnessed victims driven to the pits (however the corpses arrived, dead or alive). His job was to shovel white lime over their limbs. This sort of employment was a mask that had never left him. In this hopelessness, he tried to make light by clowning around and making the victims laugh before their death.
The juxtaposition of clowning and genocide is extraordinary. By now the audience is on-edge with a rollercoaster of emotions.
Through a final, cruel paradox, when the remaining Auschwitz prisoners were liberated, Scaramouche was thrown in jail with all the Nazis. During a trial, sometime later, he foretold his story. He was released to freedom because his 'clowning around' demonstrated 'some' value to humanity.
Masterfully directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos, Scaramouche Jones is a powerful, emotive and compelling piece of theatre.
This is a masterpiece, not to be missed theatre. Playing at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne for a short season until 25 August 2018.