In Circus by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

Just Festival at Central Hall, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2015

Michael Ritchie and Fiona Oliver-Larkin as Alice and Joker at Knockengorroch Festival

Characters loosely derived from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland are the hosts of this jumbled collection of theatrical devices. As we enter, the characters are already among us, which is an interesting introduction that promises more interaction than the show itself goes on to provide.

An ebullient fellow in curled beard, white faceprint and involved in a perpetual game of rock, paper, scissors, is Joker (Voice Box Theatre co-founder Michael Ritchie), who is effectively Master of Ceremonies. It becomes apparent that we are waiting in Alice’s imagination to see if she’ll grace us with her presence.  She does, in the form of almost silent and prettily glittered Fiona Oliver-Larkin, who brings an Amelie like charm to the proceedings.

What follows is a succession of acts, bizarre in both their concept and lack of aesthetic cohesion. This is a show that throws everything together and hopes something sticks but, for me, it could do with some serious paring back and focus on intent. Is this a story? Is it a cabaret? Why is a lady painting in the corner throughout? What relevance does an old, albeit beautiful, German silhouette animation have to do with anything?

An interesting fast-forward/rewind idea to spice up the basic acrobalance sequence of Dee and Dum is lost to most of the audience due to visibility issues around the ‘time machine’ device, and Alice and Joker have to resort to spelling out what they’re doing to ensure everyone follows the action.

Best bits are the delightfully engaging Flower, who performs a strong clowned lip-synch audition, the live musicians, and the juggling from Michael Banks, with lots of toss technique and a lovely wry connection with us, and a tall contact juggler (the performers’ names were rattled off at the end of the show, but so quickly I was unable to catch most of them). The contact juggling, whilst interesting to watch, was marred somewhat by the interjected ‘yeah!’s from The Joker in the audience.

There’s no doubting the enthusiasm of this large collective of performers, but enthusiasm is not the only ingredient required to raise a production to a high level of quality. The problem is not a lack of ideas, but a surfeit. Even a surreal world needs clarity when presented to ours.


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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."

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