The Little Tramp comes to Muscat
It was a festive Wednesday evening – the second day of the Eid al Fitr celebrations. In the lobby of the Qurum City Centre, a funny man in the garb of “The Little Tramp” was sending his audience into riotous spurts of laughter with trademark comic acts.
The uncanny resemblance to the legend was so unmistakable that one would be forgiven to have believed that Charlie Chaplin himself was in town.
Members of the audience later confessed that the 40-minute act by Argentinian Diego Andres Spanó was one of the most hilarious performances they have ever witnessed. That is not surprising considering Spanó’s acclaimed portrayal of the great comedian has earned him the reputation of one of the world’s best loved Chaplin impersonators.
Spanó performed thrice a day at the Qurum City Centre on Wednesday and Thursday followed by similar acts at the Muscat City Centre over the weekend. His interactive shows, in which he drew participation from the audience, were much lauded.
“I always invite volunteers. I begin with a child and then bring in an adult as well. In most cases, they are initially hesitant and my challenge is to break their embarrassment. Whenever I hugged the child, the audience went ‘aaaaaah’ and it is the same reaction in whichever country I perform,” said Spanó, who wears the hat of an actor, an impressionist, a clown, a mime artiste, a juggler and a musician at the same time.
“People in Oman are full of warmth and welcoming. They keep smiling always. I sensed lot of love in their response,” Spanó said, adding that Muscat brought to mind a childhood dream. “I loved the city. It’s quiet and for me it’s like living a childhood dream in the land of Aladdin. I would love to come back again.”
Over the last 15 years, the Argentinian actor has charmed audiences all over the world, performing in many countries, including his native Argentina, Spain, Italy, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Bolivia, Uruguay, China, Kuwait and now Oman.
Since 2008, Spanó has been living in London where he works as a licensed street performer in the Covent Garden district. “Now I’m the only Chaplin impressionist in the maestro’s hometown – London,” Spanó said with a hint of pride. “It’s not easy to copy Chaplin. Anyone can paint his face white and put a moustache. Even the ‘Tramp’ walk is do-able. But not many can replicate his expressions, the emotions that he brought out and his communion with his audience. I feel blessed to have come so far.”
Recalling how he became a Chaplin impersonator, Spanó narrated a story as captivating as his acts. “Although I knew about Chaplin as a child, he came into my life in 1998 when I was 24 years old,” he said.
“Even after I trained for five years at a drama school in Buenos Aires, I was working for an insurance company to survive. My work didn’t make me happy. It was a serious job completely opposite to my nature, which is being funny like a clown. I wanted to perform and make people laugh,” Spanó said.
“So one Sunday, I went to the San Telmo neighbourhood, which is often filled with artists and dancers and is also popular with tourists. I noticed a bombin (bowler hat) at a shop. As I was trying it out, the lady in the shop excitedly told me that I looked like Chaplin.“
“I bought the bombin, sketched a funny moustache on my face and started walking through San Telmo. I was overwhelmed by the attention of children and tourists,” he said.
After this incident, Spanó watched all the Chaplin movies for the next two months. He counts The Great Dictator and Modern Times among his favourites. “I watched the movies everyday and laughed like crazy. I started studying Chaplin’s mannerisms and expressions. Soon I was on the lookout for props and costumes like big shoes, a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a cane and the famous moustache. Once I had collected everything, I tried out the makeup one day.”
Spanó recalled that when his 85 year old neighbour Juanita saw him in his new get up, she remarked, “Am I dead? Are you Charlie Chaplin?”. “Juanita was my first audience. When I revealed my identity, she burst out in laughter,” he said.
Encouraged by the episode, Spanó quit his job to chase his dreams on the streets of Mar del Plata, a coastal holiday city in Argentina. “My Chaplin act premiered in Mar del Plata. I was very nervous the first day but the love and warmth that I received from the audience gave me confidence. I went to the city with 150 Argentinian pesos, enough only for two nights. But I stayed there for the entire tourist season of nearly two and a half months and returned home with a lot of money,” Spanó said.
The rest, as they say, is history. At Mar del Plata, Spanó was spotted by a fellow Argentinian artiste who was based in the Spanish city of Barcelona. Soon, Spanó found himself performing in the popular Las Ramblas Street in Barcelona. He lived in Spain for eight years between 2000 and 2008. Following a new law, which closed performances in Las Ramblas, Spanó moved to London in 2008.
Now, he divides his time between London and Buenos Aires. While the comic street performer has been showered with offers for television programmes and films in his home country, Spanó said he is not inclined to take proposals only for commercial reasons.
The Argentinian appears inspired not only by Chaplin’s acts but also by the legend’s philosophy, which Spanó describes as “touching the lives of people and spreading love to humanity”.
As a professional actor and clown who is passionate about giving back to the community, Spanó has worked with the NGO Clowns without Borders. He took his street entertainment act to ten schools for indigenous children and to numerous charity events, hospitals, and social theatres in deprived urban areas of Argentina, Spain, and Morocco. Spanó has also raised money for Thailand’s tsunami victims at events in London.
Disturbed by the ongoing violence in Gaza, Spanó said, “Where is the humanity and civilisation heading to? We do not need war. We need more love in this world. I try to hug children and those in pain and offer them love. Love is the only thing that we need to be alive and to be happy.”