Quality online theatre is booming at the moment as adverts for virtual productions pop up on social media with an ever increasing frequency, which is how I stumbled across a short clip of EastEnders’ favourite Shane Richie, white faced and sinister in the persona of Scaramouche Jones.
It’s a role that allows Richie to demonstrate a range that may well surprise those who know him only as Albert Square’s likeable Alfie Moon, and one quite different to that which last brought him to Edinburgh, just before lockdown. In Everyone's Talking About Jamie at the Festival Theatre, he sashayed on stage as retired drag queen Hugo Battersby, alias Loco Chanelle, some 20 years after he first appeared at the Nicolson Street theatre as out of work dreamer Roddy, in the jukebox musical Boogie Nights.
Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks is a very different show to either of those. A powerful one man drama by Justin Butcher, it is a gripping tale of a life shaped by extraordinary misfortunes and takes the viewer from the shores of Trinidad to England by way of slave ships, Italian royalty, and Croatian concentration camps.
A witness to pivotal moments of the 20th century, the titular character finds himself at the dawn of a new millennium, marking his own centenary and preparing for death.
Richie is mesmerising in the role. Alone on stage for one hour 40 minutes, he holds the attention from his bohemian dressing room having just ‘clowned’ his last. In a mercurial turn that ebbs and flows in perfect harmony with Butcher's emotive script, fluidly directed as an engaging story-telling cabaret by Ian Tabot, Richie rants and reflects, cowers and bristles.
Theatrically heightened through out, Scaramouche scans the most momentous century in the history of mankind, discovering each new adventure through childlike eyes. From moments of intoxicating mirth to ones of harrowing trauma, the story builds to a blisteringly brutal denouement, releasing defiant tears from the lost clown as he desperately endeavours to coax one final little laugh from a child, a well meant if brittle bid to keep fear at bay. It's gut wrenching.
All of this plays out on Andrew Exeter’s lush illusory set, a dressing room plucked from another time and enhanced by Harry Regan’s simple sound design, which includes the evocative tones of Samara Casteallo as the Voice of Mother.
Imbued with dark pathos and a palpable sense of helplessness, Scaramouche Jones is a creation unlike any you will have seen Richie inhabit before and as the return of live theatre slowly starts to look like real a real possibility, it is productions like this one from Ginger Quiff Media and Stream Theatre that remind us just what we are missing.
Scaramouche Jones or the Seven White Masks is available to stream until Sunday 11 April, £15 per stream, www.stream.theatre