Director: Bichu Tesfamariam
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
You know it’s nearly summer when The Underbelly (once the Udderbelly) Festival pitches its tent on the Southbank, and, while the weather remains decidedly un-summery, Circus Abyssinia, the first headliner show of the season, raises the temperature to a sizzle. This circus is the hottest in town.
From the breath-taking tumbling and somersaults that open this show, it seems impossible that the performers will be able to maintain this level of physicality for the next hour. However, not once does the tension ever flag; even Daniel Gezahegn’s clown has us on the edge of our seats despite the fact that his tightrope never leaves the floor. The seamless mix of juggling, acrobatics and eye-watering contortions all have the audience shouting with joy.
Established in 2017, Circus Abyssinia makes its London debut after a successful run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where it received, unsurprisingly, rave review. Its creators, brothers Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam, both began their careers as street performers in Kaffa, Ethiopia, twenty years ago, before moving to the UK where they toured with Giffords Circus. In 2010, they returned to Ethiopia and started a circus school in Addis Ababa, and the result is the peerless Circus Abyssinia. This new project quickly became such a success that Circus Abyssinia even featured in last year’s Royal Variety Performance.
The brothers take part in the proceedings too, and their juggling act is one of the evening’s many highlights; who thought that skittles could look so beautiful, so balletic, as they soar through the air? There are over fifteen performers and all are highly skilled and disciplined. Perhaps most impressive is Etsegenet Ashenafi, a contortionist whose core muscles are so strong she is able to support the weight of three other contortionists. Their cloth-spinning act dazzles. Also stealing the show are the youngsters of the crew, Ezera Nigusse and Alemayehu Mulugeta, who represent Bibi and Bichu when they were boys, and who are fast becoming just as consummate performers.
The high-octane finale with Chinese poles is a heart-stopping way to finish, and it seems as if all the cast is involved in this final act. With effective choreography by Kate Smyth, and up-tempo tunes it is hard not to want to get up and join in the fun. Bichu says that the show is intended for children, but the adults will love it too. Now Circus Abyssinia has arrived, the other circuses in town may as well pack up and go home.
Runs until 20 May 2018 | Image: Contributed