Director: Julius Green
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Another circus comes to town, but despite its thrills and spills, its petrol fumes and its dry ice, there’s a sense that Cirque Berserk may have come to this town a little too late.
Already this month we’ve had Cirque du Soleil at the Albert Hall, and Becoming Shades at the Vault Festival, not to mention the clowns and the juggling which accompanied the more conventional events of the London International Mime Festival, which finished this weekend. We may not be overrun by clowns and knife throwers just yet, but there is a sense that we’ve seen it all before.
Although the performers are all highly skilled, an emptiness runs through the show, not helped by the vastness of the Peacock Theatre, despite it being packed to the rafters with people waving luminous spinning wheels. One of the problems with the production of Cirque Berserk is that, contrary to its name, it just isn’t crazy enough. The music could be more modern, and the volume could be louder. What is needed is high-octane techno with climatic drops, but here instead we get repetitive orchestral house music (Hooked on Techno?) as well as classic circus marches and whimsical oom-pah for Tweedy the clown.
On a more positive note, the action on stage is quick, especially after the interval when the acts blend into each other rather breathlessly. The modern acts with the likes of motorbikes racing inside the Motorcycle Globe of Death have the audience whooping with fear and delight. So good is this act by the Lucius Team that they reprise it in the second half. However, it’s the more traditional performers who provide the real thrills here. Can there be anything more nerve-wrecking than watching someone throw knives at a woman turning on a disc? Here Czech knife thrower, Toni, delivers a heart-stopping routine.
The acrobatics of the Cuban Tropicana Troupe really stand out in this show, and, indeed, it is a shame that their two sections are over in a flash. They enter the stage like Mad Max characters, with gladiator helmets festooned with feathers. Their music seems faster, edgier and they have attitude to match. As they approach the edge of the stage for more applause after they’ve tumbled with the help of a giant seesaw, they almost snarl cockily, arms folded, at the audience. This stroppiness sets them apart from the other acts, who receive applause with fixed smiles and raised hands. All the performers need to borrow some of this arrogant posturing for the circus to live up to its name.
The light-hearted interludes by Tweedy the clown are, in the main, successful, but perhaps his last act goes on too long and it’s an odd anti-climatic finish. Tweedy seems a very British clown with both the mannerisms and misfortunes of Norman Wisdom and Frank Spencer, the latter played by Michael Crawford in 70s BBC sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. These references probably mean nothing to the youngsters in the audience but, nevertheless, they enjoyed his tricks with ladders and unicycles.
Each act only lasts a few minutes, before the next begins and we have aerial displays involving poles, silks and straps, some impressive foot juggling by Germaine Delbosq, and more acrobatics by the Timbuktu Tumblers. But despite its speed, and the best efforts of this very talented cast, there’s little suspense here. At times it seems old-fashioned or perhaps we are too familiar with these tricks and skills now. It veers too close to an episode of Britain’s Got Talent, thankfully without the judges. Despite the motorcycles, Cirque Berserk requires a little more va-va-voom to really stand out from the other circuses that have pitched their tent in London.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Contributed