Review: Scaramouche Jones

Colin Friels charms as the hundred-year-old clown

By Lois Maskiell

Colin Friels deservingly received a standing ovation for his performance in Scaramouche Jones at Arts Centre Melbourne. In this one-man play, written by Justin Butcher, two mythical figures come together in the fibre of a single character: the gypsy and the clown. Since its Dublin premiere in 2001, the adventures of this one-hundred-year-old mime have indulged audiences around the globe to a romantic representation of an untrammelled wanderer.

Australian actor, Colin Friels, whose career has earned Helpmann, Logie and AFI awards, emerges from a tent clad in an oversized clown costume complete with a red nose. Priming his audience like a seasoned entertainer, we are told that over the next hour we will be treated to the tale of his century-long life.

Born on the auspicious eve of 1900 to a gypsy whore on the island of Trinidad, Scaramouche’s life has always been one of adventure. Following his mother’s death, he is sold to a snake-charmer in Senegal, sails to Venice with an Italian prince and is briefly married to a Romany child bride before being put to work in a concentration camp in Croatia. It’s here he discovers his flair for buffoonery and Friels’ rendition of “the Mime of the Comic Execution” is devastating: he imitates a holocaust victim being gunned down, their face being painted white, before they rise on the wings of a butterfly.

Alkinos Tsilimidos’ direction elegantly and faithfully stages Butcher’s text by steering clear of zany clichés. The design adds an irresistible glow, featuring Richard Roberts’ set of thick ropes which are strung across fresh grass, Tristan Meredith’s gentle circus tunes and Matt Scott’s lighting that captures dusk turning to the dead of night.

Colin Friels as Scaramouche Jones gives us the impression of having experienced all of the wild and painful moments in this clown’s century-long life. Through his charm, tenderness and inexhaustible presence, Friels makes a mythical figure believable. Transitioning between a variety of accents and characters with ease, Friels never loses grip of the audience’s attention and makes us, possibly, long for a life as ridiculous and thrilling.

Scaramouche Jones is being performed 15 – 25 August at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Lachlan Bryan

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