This is the story of a clown, but not a story of clowning. When born in Port of Spain on the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries his gypsy mother called him Scaramouche because of his white face and he was named Jones by a Welsh immigration officer when he was allowed into Britain in 1951, so his touching story spans the twentieth century. Though often unaware of the great events and political upheavals gong on, he becomes inextricably caught up in them. Scaramouche discovered a role making children laugh as he shovelled lime into the grave pits in a concentration camp and himself learned to laugh when he came to Britain.
Fifty years preparing to be a clown, he tells us, and fifty years being one, though it is the first half century that we hear about in this beautifully written millennial monologue. This picaresque tale, what Scaramouche himself describes as an 'obscene and enchanting spectacle', takes him with a slave trader from Trinidad to Africa, with a snake charmer from Senegal all over the continent, from Haile Selassie's coronation in Addis Ababa to Venice and with gypsies to Croatia and Krakow.
Writer Justin Butcher has an ear for the sound of words - who else I wonder would come up with a phrase like 'sloshing semen'? - and an imagination that offers intriguingly original situations that Tom Daplyn recounts with a nostalgic gentleness. Shaven-headed beneath his clown's pate and nimble though his knees are bent with age this is no exaggerated centenarian, though Taplyn finds a voice that feels like a different century. It is a masterly performance that holds its audience for more than 100 minutes with an interval.
Director Jonathan Constant keeps the action very fluid using the whole of the space and encouraging a very physical performance whether Scaramouche is presenting his own birth or the squabbling of seagulls. There are a few points where he allows a little too fragmented handling of text which, though appropriate to character, drags out some scenes which are tight packed with detail - a small quibble in a show which is eminently successful, not least in its discrete soundscape by Nigel Collins.
At Theatre Delicatessen until 22nd May 2010
Reviewer: Howard Loxton