Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Kalle Lehto mixes clowning, acrobatics, balancing, and film to create a lovely family show centred around a bunch of hobby horses that miraculously come alive in front of our eyes. The 45 minutes fly by and are thoroughly enjoyed by both the young and those young at heart.
Escaping the Edinburgh rain, we gather in a lecture theatre that has been transformed into a big top with the help of a red dot on the ground and a screen with a red curtains. A sign on the side reminds us that this is ‘Circus’ in glowing letters. The children scramble into seats designed for those ten to fifteen years older. The excitement is palpable as some upbeat music plays.
The show is about to begin. The Ringmaster, Lehto, dressed in black pinstriped trousers, a beige top, and a beige uniform-esque jacket, gets ready. He unplugs the sign very carefully—no, really, very carefully—and moves it to the side. There he tries to plug it in again and proceeds to start. Of course, the sign goes out and the youngest section of the audience is delighted. They squeal with excitement as Lehto tries to ‘fix’ the problem and fails again and again. A delightful and surprisingly unexpected clowning start to the show. We are in for a good time.
A knee-high black steam locomotive starts to travel around the red dot, apparently driven by a plushy bay horse, who, for my liking, looks far too much out of the side window. ‘Look where you’re going horsey.’ Lehto comes on with another plushy bay hobby horse. They carefully cross the tracks that have all of a sudden appeared in our minds and proceed to the middle of the red dot and a wooden balance board. Lehto has a quick chat with his bay. Both agree to give it a try and show us various tricks ending with the bay being balanced on Lehto’s forehead. There are distinct advantages to working with hobby horses.
While the bay retires, Lehto opens the red curtains and we see a film screen. Flickering, a black and white silent film starts to roll. Lehto is seen somewhere in a small town getting on his hobby horse and riding off to Helsinki, which is more than a hundred miles away. They refresh by a lake and find a place to camp at night. Lehto struggles to put up his tent, so he and the horsey sleep under a tarpaulin, keeping each other warm. Eventually, they reach Helsinki. The children in the audience are delighted, and happy gurgling fills the lecture hall.
We are back in the big top, and Lehto tries to get a black hobby horse on stage. The black one is a bit difficult, and I can’t help but think, ‘this must be a mare’. And yes, Lehto struggles to get her to do anything. She plays with him, tricks him, and makes a fool of him. The children watch in delight. They are clearly on ‘team black mare’. The parents are not far behind their offspring and for the first time, join in the laughter when she pulls him offstage. It is thanks to Lehto’s impeccable clowning and puppetry skills that this scene works so well. The movements are fluid and seamless, making even us adults believe that there is a living animal at the end of his hand, not just a wooden stick with a black plush horse’s head.
Lehto’s next equine companion is a unicorn. At this unexpected appearance, even the parents squeal. Lehto spins a ball on his finger, and now the unicorn wants to be part of the action, and yes, it spins the ball on its horn to the utter delight of the audience. Someone brought their own little horse into the auditorium and lets it neigh.
The unicorn is followed by another bay who starts to do tumbling tricks with Lehto on a huge purple exercise ball. With much ingenuity, Lehto uses the ball as a form of trampoline and bounces off it in various ways to create funny tumbling shapes. This looks amazing, and the speed is breathtaking. This must be the most dangerous act so far. Lehto could really hurt himself quite severely in this number. Most of it is done backwards while holding a wooden stick, aka the bay hobby horse. My maternal instincts make me feel uncomfortable, and I wonder how many parents fear that their offspring might want to copy this act as soon as they get home. The audience loves it, and every bounce gets a massive ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’. For the first time, lower voices are joining in: the dads love it too. I am tempted to hide my eyes behind my hands. This IS circus.
The next scene is a film again, this time in colour. Lehto goes to a circus tent and picks up a huge grey. He mounts it and rides to the seaside. This is fairly easily achieved as this grey’s head is mounted on a bicycle. There it rests against a hut in which Lehto changes into a blue and white striped bathing suit reminiscent of 1910. He completes the outfit with huge goggles, a snorkel, and fins. We see him waddling down a small wooden pier and into the water. This was clearly filmed during a sunny but cold Finnish spring, and I get goose pimples just watching Lehto plunge into the water.
But, it is worth it. The sea outside Helsinki is surprisingly tropical. We have some corals and colourful fish, and Lehto swims into view surrounded by what looks like huge chocolate hobby horses on sticks. Whoever knew that there were hobby seahorses? Lehto collects them and emerges from the water. Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, and 95% Chocolate look really delicious when they step out of the screen onto the red dot. Lehto in his swimming outfit starts juggling them. It shows Lehto’s skills that he can juggle the three hobby horses in goggles and fins. And then, he drops one. Gasps in the audience. Is it dead? Lehto proceeds to resuscitate the hobby seahorse by performing CPR on it. The children giggle as the air floods noisily into the sea hobby horse and brings it alive again. Ah, the joy of rubber props.
Not long after, a bright pink fluorescent sea hobby horse swims into view. Lehto gathers this one too and now juggles four hobby seahorses. The fun comes to an end, the hobby seahorses are let go, and Lehto climbs out of the sea, changes back into his Ringmaster outfit, and cycles on a refreshed grey back into Helsinki.
Time flies by, the children are enthralled. More tricks ensue with even more hobby horses, greys, and chestnuts this time. We see more balancing, tumbling, juggling, and most of all, clowning. The tricks following seem to get more daring. In the end, we get a cutesy curtain call when our favourite soloist hobby horses, including the unicorn, reappear, galloping across the stage in a most ingenious way.
This is a thoroughly joyous show. Leaning on the actual acts circus horses used to perform, Lehto creates an amazing fantasy realm with hobby horses. He certainly has solid circus skills across tumbling, balancing, juggling, and clowning. He also proves he has great imagination to put a show like this together. His talent and joy at performing shine in every scene, and one has to admire his level of fitness to do this every day of the Fringe. He doesn’t get out of breath, and he barely seems to sweat.
The children are instantly captivated and lap it up. Lehto quickly draws the adults in as well. Time passes far too fast, and the show ends too soon for everyone. I am sure this performance will be reminisced around the dinner table for some by those who have seen it.