Circus, News, Performing arts, Reviews

In precarious hands

Review: Circus Oz, Precarious ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 25 July·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

Of all the performing arts, the circus performer has perhaps the toughest gig. I mean, sure, in terms of job pride, I imagine there’s little that’s more satisfying than being able to say you’re “in the circus”. But pause and consider – you have an audience demanding to be constantly wowed from whoa to go; an exceptionally broad audience that demands a blistering pace to keep all comers entertained; and then there’s the sheer physical demands of the job. It’s fabulous, but it’s also bloody tough.

I was reminded of this on the opening night of Circus Oz’s, Precarious, playing at His Majesty’s until July 28. Precarious begins with a whimper rather than the customary bang we’re used to encountering when experiencing contemporary circus. Set in a polar landscape, the players arrange a series of blocks upon which they execute a series of surprisingly slow movements. The poses are largely static, players arranging their bodies into different shapes. A screen separating the audience from the action eventually lifts and the tempo simultaneously increases but then slows again with a complex aerial routine. The techniques are undoubtedly well honed, but I was sorely conscious of the lack of pace… unfairly perhaps, I was waiting to be wowed.

Would I have had the same expectation when seeing a play? No. Dance? No. Live music? No. But while recognising the unfairness of my demands as an audience member, my disappointment keep nagging. It was twenty minutes into a 70-minute show, and despite the artistry on display, despite the obvious mastery of technique, I was yet to gasp. There was an incredibly skilled balancing act upon sheets of perspex… but because those sheets were on the floor, these talented manoeuvres did not elicit the response from the crowd that they should have. Similarly, two aerial routines, while vivid demonstrations of the strength and finesse of the two male performers, lacked the unexpected edge of surprise that audiences expect from circus.

But hurrah! The gasps did come, 30 minutes in, and when they did, they did not cease. A routine that combined aerial movement with floorwork was seriously astounding, as players swished down a central pole, stopping within inches of players curled beneath them. Adam Malone was completely jaw-dropping with his mastery of the hoops – eight lime green rings that had an uncanny ability to stick to his nose, foot, head. My ten-year-old companion had his mouth agape for the entire routine.

But, just as we were on the edge of our seats, another mis-step. This time in the form of a faux-vaudeville routine of a polar bear vomiting. I’m a big fan of humour revolving around bodily functions, but this was strangely unfunny and twice as long as it should have been. Fortunately this same polar bear (if I’m not mistaken) was given a chance to display her true skills shortly after with a remarkable routine in which she twirled, juggled and balanced an umbrella on her feet. The show ended on a high, showcasing the incredible trapeze skills Circus Oz is rightfully famous for.

Circus Oz makes a specialty of combining artforms – Precarious was not just circus, it also featured vaudeville, comedy and live music. The mixing of these mediums sound like it would make for a packed hour, but strangely with Precarious the end result felt scattershot and unfocused, as though the show could not decide quite what it was. One could imagine a more streamlined performance that highlighted the real strengths of the group – the hoops; the trapeze; the foot juggling; the aerials – while happily scrapping the extraneous comedy and musical accompaniment (which at times threatened to overshadow the main event). Pared down and paced up, the audience would feel in less Precarious hands.

Precarious plays until July 28.

Pictured top: Aurora Jillibalu Riley, Karina Schiller, Sam Aldham, Spenser Inwood, Adam Malone, Photo: Rob Blackburn.

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