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Justin Butler’s Scaramouche Jones is a one-man show documenting the life and times of a clown on his final night on Earth. It is New Year’s Eve 1999 and Scaramouche, played by Shane Richie, sits reminiscing about the seven stages of his life in his dressing room.
Akin to Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man, as set out by Jacques in As You Like It, Scaramouche’s trademark white face is metaphorically repainted seven times throughout the performance to mark his development from stage to stage.
Richie’s Scaramouche is exuberant, unpredictable and nostalgic. His tales are tall and would need to be seen to be believed. His journey begins in a Trinidad fishmonger’s but takes him to West Africa as an apprentice to a snake charmer who ends up being executed for releasing aforesaid snake, named Benjamin Disraeli no less, into a crowd – never to be seen again.
Richie is surrounded by a beautiful set designed by Andrew Exeter with multiple floating cherry red balloons, deep red shimmering set dressing, dark staircases and a television set which provides the image of Big Ben as the year 2000 descends. Despite sticking to the dark and traditional clown colours with reds, blacks and whites the set is extravagant enough for this clown but not distracting from our sole performer.
Richie’s versatility is evident in this piece in the variety of experience he not just tells, but re-experiences. We revisit the filthy brothels of his hometown in Trinidad, his twenty-five years as an apprentice snake charmer, a stint in prison and his release back into the world and onto the familiar South Bank of London.
The most moving part of the piece is just half an hour before the end, as Jones recounts his time as a gravedigger at a Nazi Concentration Camp in Croatia. His unbelievably white skin marking him out from the “gypsies” and Jewish people who accompany him. Not deemed Aryan enough, he is forced to dig the mass graves for the death camps, and he recounts the many faces he covers with lime as he puts them to rest from the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Whilst this play is about one eccentric man who hails from Trinidad, but has ties in Senegal, Croatia and finally the UK, this piece is ultimately about a century of change. The difference between the well-wishes to Queen Victoria and Prince’s anthem of 1999 is made all too clear when set in a 90-minute time slot.
Butler’s piece, so movingly performed by Ritchie, is a pit-stop tour of the whirlwind adventures of not just one man, but of a climactic century.
Scaramouche Jones is available to watch online until 11 April 2021. For more information and tickets see stream.online’s website.