Back to basics with acclaimed play Scaramouche Jones

Alkinos Tsilimidos talks about directing Colin Friels as a 100-year-old clown in the one-man play

It’s millenium eve, a date charged with symbolism, as most of humanity took time – in an almost obsessive-compulsive way – for reminiscence. For one man, it was the day that he decided to stop doing the job that he loves and that has defined him. He is, after all, 100 years old and has lived through the 20th century. His name is Scaramouche Jones. His occupation, clown.

This is the premise of the widely acclaimed one-man play, Scaramouche Jones written by British playwright Justin Butcher and which premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival in October 2001 where it was performed by eminent English actor, the late Pete Postlethwaite.

He would perform the play on tour for the next couple of years, to much applause. Alkinos Tsilimidos attended one of these performances.

“I didn’t know much about it, a friend of mine brought me along and I thought it was terrrific,” he remembers explaining how he came up with suggesting the play as a vehicle for Colin Friels, as a follow-up to their successful collaboration on Red a couple of years ago.

“Colin and I enjoy working together and we’d been thinking what we could do after Red, and I thought of Scaramouche Jones because I think that Colin can hold a show by himself. So I sent it to him and a year-and-a-half later we’re putting it on,” he says.

For the director, the appeal of this play lies to its ‘back-to-basics’ quality, both in form and content.

“It just goes back to the basics of storytelling in theatre, and the simplicity of what theatre was, it really goes back to Thespis,” he says, making a reference to the first person in history to go on stage and perform as another character, in 6th century BCE Athens.

“I also like the idea that a clown can strip everything back to the basic human needs and how they can be very very funny,” he says. “It’s a reflection and a reminder for all of us that life is very funny. That is the most important message to me.”

Going back to his recollection of going to the circus at six years of age, Alkinos Tsilimidos shares his fascination with clowns and the effect they have on children, a combination of fear and delight.

“Children are scared of clowns, but they also think that they are very funny at the same time. A clown is also someone with the ability to laugh at themselves and that is what we find difficult today, we’re so serious. Our lives are made that way that we are supposed to be serious and a clown opposes to that idea.”

But Scaramouche Jones is not “your normal clown,” he adds.

“He’s driven by the idea of making children laugh, but that is because of an event that changed his life forever.”

Stage and film director Alkinos Tsilimidos.

The play itself is an expose, it opens up the man, and narrates a life that “you would not expect a clown to have lived. When you come to the theatre you see this character who is 100 years old. Through his life we get a recollection of major events, he’s taking you through the 20th century seen from his own perspective. He’s lived these things that we study in history.”

This was his guideline as a director.

“My work is helping Colin physicalise and embody the spirit of Scaramouche, to illuminate his ideas and thoughts so that they make sense in his complete body. When you come to the play, you don’t see an actor at work – it’s Scaramouche telling his life. Colin Friels is such a seasoned performer and he’s relying on all the things he’s played in the past; all these different roles come into light and come together in Scaramouche.”

So, what would the director say as a way to invite people to come to the play?

“I would say to come just to see this man work; see an actor who really is at his best. For the audience, this setting creates an intimate relationship with the character. When Scaramouche talks, you sort of think of your own life. It is also very like sitting with a family member – an uncle, an aunty, or grandparent, who has a story to tell, finally telling what happened in their life. It’s a gentle, sad and funny experience to have.”

Colin Friels will perform ‘Scaramouche Jones’ directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Studio from 15 – 25 August. For tickets, visit artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2018/theatre/scaramouche-jones