Mark Goucher is currently producing the UK tours of Hairspray and Alan Bennett's Single Spies as well as Slava’s Snowshow at the Royal Festival Hall which has returned to London for its fifth consecutive festive season.
A celebration of theatrical clowning, the atmospheric show combines the unbridled silliness of slapstick with visual extravagance and beauty, all of which has established its creator, Slava Polunin, as a creative genius of international acclaim.
Mark is on the Board of SOLT and on the Board of the League of Independent Producers. He produced his first show in 1987 at the Edinburgh Fringe and in the West End In 1991.
Just a small selection of his previous productions include: Jeeves and Wooster (Duke Of York’s), Taken At Midnight (Chichester/West End), A Chorus Line (London Palladium), The King's Speech (UK tour), Oh What A Lovely War (UK tour), Pygmalion (UK tour), Yes Prime Minister (West End/UK tour), Crazy for You (Novello), High Society (Shaftesbury), Footloose (Novello) and RENT (Prince Of Wales).
I recently spoke to Mark about why London audiences love Slava’s Snowshow, wanting to bring Hairspray back to the West End and his theatrical highlights of 2015…
Slava's Snowshow is back for its fifth consecutive Christmas season in London! Originally, why did you decide to get behind the show?
I remember when the show started at the Edinburgh Festival – I was working there – and it was a huge phenomenon. Then it came to the West End and then it went to Broadway. However, afterwards there was a big gap because they were so busy and didn’t have time to come back to London.
Five years ago the Royal Festival Hall was available over Christmas and we thought Slava’s Snowshow was a good fit for it because it’s quite arty and it obviously has a Christmassy feel about it. The show is performed around the word at any time of the year, even in countries where it never snows at all! We have this peculiar thing in Britain about Christmas shows and pantomimes – you could say this is a slightly posh people’s panto [laughs].
Because London is so multicultural, Slava’s Snowshow also works well here because it doesn’t require any language at all. You can just sit there, watch it and get covered in snow. It’s beautiful and works on all sorts of levels.
What are the whole team like to work with?
Well every time the Snowshow is recreated you never quite know which clowns are coming from where. Slava (Polunin) is now the Artistic Director of the St Petersburg Circus. A lot of these clowns are in demand – they come out of shows like Cirque Du Soleil and shows in Vegas. Half of them probably come from Russia, some come from France, last year we had two from America and there are indeed a couple of British clowns. They’re all pulled together from around the world! I have to say, they are treated rather like royalty! They’re all put up in a five star hotel in Whitehall and live the life of Riley for three and a half weeks. They haven’t got anything to complain about!
So does the change in line-up mean the show evolves each year?
Yes, the show does change. Slava now only makes guest appearances. For ten years he wouldn’t let anyone else play the Yellow Clown, but the truth is he’s getting older and he’s also got a lot of work to do in St Petersburg so slowly he has allowed others to play the Yellow Clown. Suddenly when he makes a guest appearance you end up with two Yellow Clowns on stage which is quite interesting. Every year depending on who’s doing the show it is different. There are people who come back every single year – every year Simon Callow phones me and says, “Oh I must have my tickets for Slava”. Lots of actors come every year, actors love it! As people grow older they start to bring their kids and introduce it to the next generation.
You have had a very busy year! What has been your highlight?
I passionately wanted to do Hairspray when it was on Broadway, and I lost out to Stage Entertainment who brought the Broadway production over here… fair enough. When I saw Hairspray for the first time – I was at opening night on Broadway – I remember just being absolutely bowled away by the integrity of the musical. Based on a true story, the anti-segregation message is still extremely powerful. Women now are obsessed about size issues; girls and women find it impossible to be themselves because the media bombards them with images of beautiful models who are size zero. If you go around the country and see the type of women who come and see Hairspray they are just celebrating the fact that they are big, blonde and beautiful! I think it’s the most well-written and well-crafted modern day musical.
Brenda Edwards and the cast of Hairspray
I am desperately trying to get the writers to allow us to bring this new production into London next year. My cast are phenomenal and absolutely deserve to be seen in London. I hope it happens! It’s not the original production; it’s directed by Paul Kerryson who has done a brilliant job, choreographed by Drew McOnie who is just fantastic. Obviously this production is a little more economical than the original production – it has to be. I am so proud of the entire company! When I go around the country to see it, night after night everyone stands up and goes nuts. It’s amazing! Just talking about it now there is a lump in my throat! I’m so glad I’ve finally got my hands on it!
It feels like one of those shows which should be a long-runner in the West End!
You’re right, I think in the right theatre it could sit down and just run for a very long time! So I’m very proud of Hairspray, very hopeful that Jeeves and Wooster is going to go to Broadway next year – that would be really, really terrific. I was also delighted that Penelope Wilton won an Olivier Award for Taken At Midnight which I commissioned. Taken At Midnight was my posh theatre, as opposed to my happy-clappy theatre [laughs]. I live in two parallel universes, the happy-clappy wanting everybody to stand up and dance in the aisles universe as well as the universe where I want people to be immensely moved and intellectually challenged by new drama. I at least try and do both of those things!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Slava’s Snowshow runs at the Royal Festival Hall until 3rd January 2016.
Please visit www.slavasnowshow.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 3: Ellie Kurttz