Nowadays Shane Richie is probably best-known for his role as Alfie Moon in Eastenders, or of course his recent stint in the castle for last year’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, but theatre fans will know him from his performances in the likes of Grease and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. And now he returns to the stage – or at least the digital stage – to star in a role made famous by the late, great Pete Postlethwaite – Scaramouche Jones.
Written by Justin Butcher, Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks is the latest digital production from Ginger Quiff Media, the team behind the recent revivals of Rose and Little Wars, and tells the story of a tragic clown whose life has been shaped by misfortune. Born in Trinidad on 31 December 1899 on the cusp of a new century, Scaramouche Jones has seen and done it all. Now, nearly a hundred years later as the world counts down to the year 2000 and people panic about the Millennium Bug, he reminisces over his life while he himself counts down to his imminent death. He tells his story, of the death of his mother; being sold into slavery; performing with a snake charmer in Senegal; meeting an Italian prince; and ending up in a concentration camp, digging mass victims for victims of the holocaust and entertaining children before they were led to their death. It’s a story that takes him all the way from Trinidad to London where he becomes a clown, a story of the seven white masks that each represent a stage in Scaramouche’s life.
Ian Talbot’s bold direction has resulted in a fresh and absorbing production. At times it has the feel of a video diary, with Scaramouche addressing the camera directly as though he’s recording his final moments, while the addition CCTV-style footage interspersed throughout makes it feel like there are moments when the audience is intruding on Scaramouche’s personal ramblings. It’s a clever technique which allows viewers to see the real man when he’s not performing for the camera – after all, when he’s filming himself you never quite know which parts of his story are real. The varying camera angles keep the action fresh, while also allowing for close-ups of the clown when his emotions rise to the surface. Andrew Exeter’s set design builds on the filming location backstage at a London theatre, with lots of black and red, including red balloons dotted around the stage. It sets the scene well, and likewise Matt Davies’ lighting design reflects the varying moods effectively. Other than some minor volume issues with the music occasionally encroaching on Richie’s dialogue, this is an incredibly strong and stylish production.
Performing a solo show is no mean feat, and Shane Richie does an incredible job over the 100-minute monologue, even voicing the other characters which helps to drive the play along. He’s mesmerising right from the instant he begins to speak and retains his energy throughout. Richie demonstrates the full range of his talent as he transforms from a young boy living with his mother (voiced by Samara Casteallo) to a man who has lived through several cultural and historical moments over the century and lived to tell the tale. Richie is a brilliant storyteller and charms during the lighter moments, while the darker memories are incredibly effecting as Scaramouche relives some horrific events.
With an enchanting script and a faultless performance from Shane Richie as the jaded clown, Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks is an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching production which definitely leaves you pining for more. It works very well indeed as a digital show, but is certainly deserved of a full production in the future.
Scaramouche Jones is streaming until 11 April 2021.
Photo credit: Bonnie Britain