‘Cleverly written & colourful’: CIRCUSY CATERPILLAR – Underbelly Festival

In Children's theatre, Circus, Festivals, London theatre, Opinion, Reviews by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

The Spiegeltent, London

Sometimes I feel very lucky that I get an excuse to go and see children’s shows without even having any small people of my own. This is a case in point. The wonderful circus-theatre production of Circusy Caterpillar is cleverly written and colourful, with a vibrant soundtrack of rock, pop and disco songs that keep the room alive alongside the simple storytelling of mime and rhyming voice-over.

The Australian show toured until recently under the more recognisable title of The Very Circusy Caterpillar, which makes the story’s inspiration clear; if you’ve ever read a book about a little wriggly bug who eats more and more each day until transforming into a high-flying beauty, here is your chance to see what would happen if that little bug was born inside a circus tent, aspiring each day towards a different role in the show, eating to build strength with which to walk a slackline, juggle hula hoops or spin a German wheel.

The show is performed now by multi-talented Chelsea Angell, who has taken over the charming one-woman role created in 2011 by Happy Haps Productions‘ founder, Hannah Cryle. Angell smiles and wiggles and cheekily interacts with the male voice of the recorded narration, and there are a couple of well placed moments of play that actively involve us in the audience too.

Tricks become increasingly impressive as each day passes, and the imaginative portrayal of different foods through various circus props kept me excited to discover what will come next. Inside the Spiegeltent, with chairs arranged in a semi-circle on the flat performance floor, some of the smaller children need to move away from their seats to find a better viewing position, but attention is held. At the end, when stickers are offered for sale on the way out – by the circusy butterfly herself – several small fans decide to take their own place in the performing area, dancing and rolling on the floor to re-create their own games inspired by the show.

Within the last fortnight the show’s name has been changed, following a request from the estate behind Eric Carle’s classic book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is a great shame for audiences who might appreciate the link to a childhood favourite (on which bookings might be based) and seems churlish to boot considering the quality of the production. This circusy alternative has clearly been made with great love and respect, as well as a skill for understanding the pace, colour and development required by young audiences.  Whilst the gentle characterisation and clear movements are well suited for pre-schoolers, the recorded narration also offers a way in for older brothers and sisters, and the show is advertised for children up to 8 years old (although there are moments too that make me laugh aloud, with humour or delight, at 37).

A small detail that may pass many by, but makes me smile widely, is the refusal to acknowledge traditional gender stereotypes in the circus role models the caterpillar tries to emulate. Girls can juggle, boys can hula hoop and that’s the way the world is. From a small start, you can become something amazing.  And have a great deal of fun on the way.

Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."
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Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."