Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 26th July, 2018
Circus has changed – evolved – since its inception by Philip Astley 250 years ago. Exotic animals have come and gone (thank goodness) and what we have today relies solely on the skills of human performers. Gone too is Astley’s innovative ring in this ‘made for theatre’ show. And with no ring, there is no ringmaster; the acts follow each other unannounced, giving the show an organic feel.
The Timbuktu Tumblers from Africa get things off to a flying start. Dressed as walk-ons from Hamilton they hurl themselves through a skipping rope then pile onto each other in a range of configurations. In the second half, they set fire to a limbo stick, setting the bar high – or rather, lowering it at increments. They’re an engaging bunch and I look forward to seeing them later in the year at the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime.
Luciana Gabriel and Carina treat us to a display of bolas spinning, to dazzling and percussive effect. I can only think of the bruises they must have incurred during training!
Our clowns for the evening are a double-act from Brazil, the Mustache Brothers – imagine if Charlie Cairoli had sired the Super Mario Brothers and you get some idea. Their make-up is subtle if their expressions are not. Their dumb-show antics are charming and, yes, funny, involving a ladder, a bucket of smoke, and a table. The universal language of slapstick speaks to us all.
Other acts that impress are aerialists Rosey and Jackie, Odka, a contortionist who arrives on stage in a jar, unfolds herself and performs archery with her feet. The Tropicana Troupe from Cuba use a platform, a seesaw and a crash mat to gobsmack us all, their deadpan expressions making them all the more camp. Toni the Czech knife thrower is the most traditional act of the night; the brave woman who stands unflinchingly before him amazes me the most. I also enjoy Laci Fossett and his aerial pole work, Germaine Delbosq who juggles on her back, using her feet to manipulate a cube, a cylinder and a ring while her hands deal with balls, Zula with his tower of chairs… I would have liked more to be made of the flame-throwing robot.
The big finale for both halves concerns the ‘Globe of Death’ a spherical cage into which a man on a motorbike enters and rides around. He is followed by a second. And then a girl goes and stands in there with them. The heady smell of petrol fills the auditorium – I spend the second half in a kind of awe-inspired daze, so by the time the globe reappears for the big finish, topping the feats of the first act, I am well away. Perhaps too, the interval wine had something to do with it.
The upshot is a spectacularly entertaining evening. Creative director Julius Green keeps things seamless, with contrasting acts and moods so nothing feels tired or repetitive. In these days of commonplace CGI effects in just about everything, it is refreshing and thrilling to see real people perform these skills before your very eyes. Cirque Berserk is non-stop entertainment, lacking the pretentiousness of other troupes I could mention. Costumes of a bygone age blend with costumes from faraway places in a thoroughly contemporary setting, showing that the circus is still alive and well. It’s solid fun for all the family and you can’t help admiring the hell out of everyone involved.