Touring – reviewed at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Irene Brown
Newbury-based circus company Cirque Berserk! appears at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre as part of its 2020 tour. The company brands itself as ‘Real Circus made for Theatre’ and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
The 14 acts, whose skills range from jugglers, acrobats, cyclists, aerial artistes and of course clowning, are truly international with nationalities spanning the globe from as far as Africa, Mongolia and Brazil to as close as Ireland.
Cirque Berserk! eschews the narrative style adopted by new style circuses and instead produces an array of acts in the style of a traditional big top circus. But there’s no ringmaster or MC.
Instead there is an interlacing of acts where some performers smoothly take on the role of stagehands to make way for the next act. The show is wordless, relying solely on the visual impact of the physical dexterity in the variety of acts.
As the house lights dim, the light-hearted music changes gear to adopt an urgent tone as Cirque Berserk! regulars, the Timbuktu Tumblers, emerge from out of the shadows.
With immense almost playful energy, they go on to create a series of shapes with their bodies as they roll, climb, dive through hoops and (of course) tumble. It was heartening, even if accidental, to see a shape of the famous Scottish landmark, the Forth Rail Bridge being embodied by these guys.
Several acts on this tour are new to Cirque Berserk! Among them, the Khadgaa Troupe from Mongolia whose skills, involving being catapulted from a see saw, are jaw droppingly impressive.
These ensembles may jump in the air, but some of the acts perform in the air. These include Mongolian aerialist Hulan, also new in the 2020 tour, who performs elegantly with solo silks. The Berserk Dancers and Aerial Ballet, led by London artist Sarah Howard, manipulate the long silks with the ease that lesser mortals use to kick the bed covers.
Add to this, the astonishing Mongolian contortionist and archer Elberel, whose skills leave your heart in your mouth, while the compact figures of another new act, the acrobatic brothers from Ireland Antonio and Connor Garcia, stun with hand balancing and precision spinning.
The show’s highlight has to be the daredevil motorcycle stunts from the five riders who make up The Lucius Team and who nail bitingly ride their machines inside a globe at speeds of up to 60mph, looking like angry wasps in a jar. A version of this was part of this year’s King’s pantomime, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, when it was performed under the name of Berserk Riders.
Toni and Nikol. Pic: Piet-Hein Out
Taking on the traditional role of the clown between circus acts is Brazilian physical artiste Paulo Dos Santos. Brilliantly talented in high-speed tumbling, aerial acrobatics and juggling, his personality comes across warmly making him a clear audience favourite.
Dressed as a dust coated stage sweeper, he brings sure footed clowning skills with plenty of bum kicking tropes and ladder capers without a red nose in sight.
The company’s costume designer, Dianne Kelly, deserves credit notably for the pseudo military garb of Khadgaa Troupe, the 19th century dandy look of the Timbuktu Tumblers and, loveliest of all, Hulan’s exquisite sequined costume.
contortionist and archer Elberel. Pic: Piet-Hein Out
Cirque Berserk! (whose intended rhyming only works with certain UK accents) creates a real sense of an old fashioned circus experience but sadly without the immediacy of live music.
While the show has plenty of moments that inspire awe, there are also ones of serious discomfort. In particular, the knife throwing act of Toni and Nikol, the aerial stunts of Duo Garcia and the inclusion of a person wearing no safety helmet standing within the Globe of Death.
Disturbingly, in each case the vulnerable person in the act was a woman.
Perhaps a less than full auditorium did not help the show but, despite the evident talent and energy on stage, a lack of fun and engagement was largely missing.
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 3/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Tuesday 10 – Sunday 15 March 2020
Tue – Fri 7.30pm; Sat: 2pm, 5pm & 7.30pm; Sun 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Cirque Berserk on tour:
10 – 15 March 2020
0131 529 6000
24 – 29 March 2020
Nuffield Southampton Theatres
08448 717 627
21 – 23 April 2020
24 – 26 April 2020
New Theatre Royal
5 – 10 May 2020
27 – 30 May 2020
0115 941 9419
30 June – 5 July 2020
10 – 13 Sept 2020
0844 871 3020
16 – 20 Sept 2020
08448 717 620
A Robot, yesterday.