Edinburgh Fringe 2023
This is circus on a whole new theatrical level. The world premiere of Duel Reality bursts into Circus Hub from The 7 Fingers, the company who created the hit show Passagers. Star-crossed lovers. Two opposing teams. The stage is an arena. Competition can be playful at times, but also dangerously serious. Which side will you choose?
In Duel Reality, French-Canadian troupe The 7 Fingers proposes what might have happened had Juliet had been given a trapeze instead of poison and if Romeo could actually fly as he exclaimed “With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls.” Fair Verona, meet the big top.
An arts collective that likes to break down the spectacle of circus and mix it with other genres to create a more emotional and personal experience for both its performers and their audiences (the company was formed as a breakaway response to Cirque du Soleil), The 7 Fingers here takes on the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet, mostly to great effect.
In Duel Reality the Montagues and Capulets are color coded. Audience members are given red or blue wristbands as they enter the arena and are then segregated by their color group, and the ten performers are equally divided as well into two factions. After a brief exchange of select lines from Shakespeare’s prologue, competition between the groups thus begins, with the audience cheering and jeering their respective teams.
As fun as the created divisiveness is, the stakes of the imposed story never really feel very high, because given what physical feats these performers are demonstrating, it’s absolutely clear that everyone is in total sync at all times for necessary reasons of safety. Blue performers sometimes help out red ones, and vice versa. But to be clear, no one at this show is attending for wobbly Shakespearean verse. They are there to be wowed. And on that count Duel Reality is totally successful, starting with stunning and gasp-inducing acrobatics on two large poles, followed by an impressive juggling duel. At this point the competition aspect of the show mostly falls by the narrative wayside, and the audience is treated to a gorgeous hula hoops routine, a fun diabolo act, aerials on chains and an impressive seesaw act that brings back the red-blue storyline in its last moments.
As breathtaking as all the physical feats are, and they are pretty dang spectacular, what I will remember most from this show will be the two pas de deux of the performers playing Romeo and Juliet. Staged beautifully by director Shana Carroll, seeing the majestic physical manifestations of the passionate feelings between these two iconic characters is where Shakespeare and this circus truly merged, ending the show not in glooming peace but in a state of transcendence.