Scaramouche Jones

Justin Butcher

Riverside Studios

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

The eponymous hero of this one-man show is a white faced son of an Ethiope gypsy whore. His life spans the Twentieth Century and it is clearly Justin Butcher's intention to show the parallels between the life of the latterday Scaramouche and his century.

Pete Postlethwaite gives a moving performance as the clown whose time is measured through seven white masks each of which represents a stage in his life. He symbolically peels off layers of clothing as he bares more and more of his soul. There is much tragedy and some high humour as he is taken up and dropped by a variety of more or less sympathetic people.

He is always lonely and has few successes as he ekes out a wanderer's existence, including periods as child, snakecharmer's assistant and prospective catamite. Even his marriage to an unseen child bride is never consummated and starts and ends with fearful batterings.

The social history sometimes illuminates the tale of the modern Scaramouche but as often seems more a means of establishing a date as he travels far and wide.

The highlight is undoubtedly when he finds himself as a gravedigger in a concentration camp. He becomes a clowning hero easing children from the terrors of impending death. This is encapsulated by a beautiful mime that in fifteen seconds shows all.

Justin Butcher main strength is that he writes very beautifully with many poetically visual images and a penchant for alliteration.

Whether this story which is so well told should be on stage rather than page or radio is a question that remains uncertain. While Pete Postlethwaite puts much energy and feeling into his performance, the transition to radio would lose little and might help the play to find a more natural medium where the wonderful language can live without distraction. In fact, there has already been a Radio 4 production starring Warren Mitchell.

That should not prevent lovers of language, good acting and storytelling from making what will prove a worthwhile trip to the Riverside.