Circomedia, Bristol – until 25 October 2017
Although I am less prone to spontaneous outbursts of ‘Whoa‘ and ‘Look!‘ than the rows of small children that this charming show is more properly aimed at, I am just as enthralled. The Finnish Racehorse Company have created a delightfully absurd musical presentation of circus skill and visual wonder with Around, which runs at a comfortable 40 minutes, followed by a chance to meet the performers and test out the toys used in the show.
Avoiding the stereotypes of circus nostalgia, the show nonetheless manages to use the tropes of classical circus in a way that feels fresh and resonant to contemporary youngsters. Hobby horses treated with all the care and attention a real mount would warrant are a wonderful trigger for the imagination; three men in elephant masks parading regally around the stage are deliciously funny; a winding leg of snakeskin that reveals a contorting human body attached is mesmerising and prompts calls of ‘Where’s the snake lady?’ from the small boy next to me when the four performers take their bows at the end in human guise.
Susanna Liinamaa and Kalle Lehto take the majority of the physical performance between them – twirling golden hula hoops, diving through magical bubbles, or juggling balls and clubs as director Lehto takes on the role of a gently enthusiastic ringmaster. Sami Tammela and Ben Rogers man the percussion and strings that provide the transforming and humorously composed jazz soundscape, playing from a living-room band stage to the right of the roped performance ring, or a funky-monkey dj-booth to the left.
The show communicates completely without words, with a clarity of focus that draws us into the simple structure of presented acts amid a scenographic richness that allows endless opportunity to share details with the smaller viewers. Look, that apple’s rattling! Can you see the balloons in the roof? The horsies are having a drink!
As I’m scribbling my notes very adultly in a book, the younger audience members around me deliver their responses out loud:
‘Wow…’, as a red and gold chest is carefully opened to reveal Liinamaa’s set of coloured bubble-blowing props.
‘Peter pan has that!’ as Lehto beatboxes with a set of panpipes.
‘The seaside!’ transformed by bubbles, a stripy swimming costume and a surf guitar melody.
‘Now it’s five… no, I think it’s six… now it’s three again… is it four?’ trying to count the number of balls cascading through juggler Lehto’s hands.
‘He’s getting new clothes on!’
‘He’s going to be a magician!’
‘I can’t even do that!’
The show is a series of delights, whose performers smile out at us with gentle, undemanding gazes. After their bows, all four return and just sit at the edge of their stage. Just sitting, in case anyone wants to come and say hello. Within 2 or 3 minutes, shynesses have dissolved, and the stage is suddenly filled with children trying out hula hoops with Liinamaa, sharing high-fives with Lehto, learning how an electric double bass works with Rogers or squeaking horns with Tammela. Around is a captivating experience that stimulates the imagination and offers satisfying food for curious minds. Round up everyone you know with children under-6, and recommend this show.