Edinburgh Fringe 2018
This is a touring production from London’s West End featuring 30 performers who impressively cover a wide variety of circus skills in a high-energy presentation with many visual effects.
Cirque Berserk! describes itself as “Real Circus made for theatre”. Instead of a circus tent there is a stage with a dramatic setting. Instead of elephants and tigers there are acrobats, new-style clowns, silk rope artists, and stuntmen. Using special effect lighting, driving music, innovative set design, and haze, the audience is transported to a surreal world where the viewer becomes fully engaged in the experience.
Circus has a history of 250 years. The modern circus started in London in 1768, first with trick horseback riding to music, subsequently adding clowns, bands, and acrobats. Through the Victorian era, circuses began to travel widely, in large tents and into amphitheatres. With increased popularity, productions added more “rings” for performance areas and more variety artists. The famous American entrepreneur PT Barnum, lately front and centre in the feature film “The Greatest Showman”, brought in a new dimension of unusual characters who were often put on display to attract the curious. Animal acts expanded to tigers jumping through fiery hoops, elephants rotating on stools, and bears dancing.
As the public concern for animal welfare increased, variety performers became more important and featured in circuses. In fact, many countries now ban live animals in circus shows. Quebec street performers designed a new-style circus that focused on storytelling with characters in shimmery costumes plying their trade in acrobatics, juggling, clown, and more. That became Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, now a gigantic international enterprise.
Cirque Beserk! stages its production in that new tradition. The show is high drama, from the pulsating drum beats to the purple-washed stage and lighting effects. The set consists of large platforms hung on angles in the background, with the ever-present giant wire globe in the middle. The costuming throughout the show is well-designed to fit each scene, from medieval frocks to stunning body suits to flamenco skirts. Acrobats and tumblers show their agility at the opening, as they easily transition between flying through the air to creating human pyramids. One moment the cast is doing cartwheels across the stage and suddenly two women in bright red and gold costumes are executing perfectly synchronized movements on ropes with the precision of Olympic ice dancers. Other skills showcased by the 30-member case include the South American Bola ropes, fire sticks, aerial silks, stilt walking, chair balancing, and even knife-throwing, just what you would expect of a top quality circus. Comic relief comes from a pair of “janitor” clowns, who employ slapstick routines to give the audience a break from the high-velocity acrobatics. And, of course, there are the death defying moments – you’ll see have to see those for yourself
The concept of cirque is not original but the execution is innovative. The music is a constant throbbing driver. The cast members work in large ensembles and are well-coordinated. Everything is performed with impeccable timing. The variety of scenes, reinforced by the change of costumes, music, and lighting, broaden the production.
This is a great show for all ages. Families will enjoy it, as the kids will be wide-eyed at the stunts, but it is also a spectacle to be appreciated by adults.