Scaramouche Jones tells his story onstage
“Your father Little Scara was an Englishman.”
Scaramouche Jones is performed here at Wilton’s Music Hall by its author Justin Butcher. It is the graphic tale of a commedia dell’arte clown which punches you in the gut.
We start not with the economical “I am born” but towards his death at aged 100 years old on December 31st 1999, where he describes his visceral birth in Port O’ Spain Trinidad a century earlier. This “little oyster” is a pale skinned baby born to a “swarthy” Gypsy whore in a place that is “a fishmonger’s by day and knocking shop by night”. Crinkle your noses now!
He is told his father was an Englishman but as no DNA tests were available then it was impossible to tell which of his mother’s clients, the father might have been. No biological detail is spared as young Scaramouche witnesses his mother in her professional capacity many times nightly.
At age 6, on the death of his mother, he is claimed by a missionary to go to an orphanage in Barbados. He is intercepted, sold to an Arab trader and sails to the west coast of Africa where he forms a double act with a white cobra called Benjamin Disraeli.
The Seven White Masks of the secondary title are projected on the stage set circus tent curtains, behind each mask a drawing of a slowly ageing face like those commercials for Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, redrawn to show pension concerns.
In Dakar, Senegal Justin Butcher will imitate the call to prayer from the minarets in his ability to take us to these far flung places. In Addis Ababa he will witness the coronation of Haile Selassie which I think places Scaramouche at age 29.
Onto Venice, then Milan, to meeting up with a gypsy troupe and learning the Pierrot role, the commedia dell’arte white faced clown. So to Krakow in Poland, then to Yugoslavia, thence a concentration camp in Split where, in a touching scene he distracts with clowning, Jewish children from their terrible fate.
The play has started with a quick survey of history as at 1900 and this piece claims to cover a whole century but the twentieth century seemed to fast forward from the Nuremburg Trials 1949 and the Festival of Britain 1951, to Millennium Eve 1999.
The writing too often seemed overly lavish; I think it shows that it was written for radio 20 years ago. However, it is a remarkable performance of such length and animation by Justin Butcher but my derriere was starting to feel the effects of no interval after less than the full 100 minutes on unsprung seats.
Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks
Written and performed by Justin Butcher
Director: Guy Masterson
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davies
Lighting Designer: Tom Turner
Music and Sound Designer: Adam Cork
Video Design: Damian Hale
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Booking at Wiltons until 26th June
Wilton’s Music Hall
1 Grace’s Alley
London E1 8JB
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at Wilton’s on 16th June 2021