This is not the first time that the circus has come to the West End. Cirque du Soleil is now a regular visitor to London’s Theatreland. But the long-established Zippo’s Circus has now produced a rival for artistry and excitement. The transition from the big top to the stage gives a different perspective on just how amazing the achievements of circus artistes can be. Without a ringmaster, and indeed without a ring – and for that matter, without candy floss – the stage of the Peacock Theatre is the setting for a fast-moving succession of remarkable acts that easily captivate an adult audience. Indeed, there were very few children in the audience last night, though the house was packed. The performers were egged on with much clapping and cheering, and at the end they were given a standing ovation. They deserved it.
Each of the acts was really good, and it seems invidious to pick any out for special mention. But here are three that particularly struck this reviewer.
A large glass jar is carted onto the stage, inside which there appears to be a homunculus. Are we about to behold a ghastly fairground freak? No. Instead, there emerges a svelte and perfectly formed young woman from Mongolia who, balancing on her hands, arches her back until her feet are in front of her head. Holding a bow in one foot, and drawing the string with the other, she sends an arrow flying into the target. Amazing. Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes swept all before them with their skill at archery from horseback. But I bet they never attempted that.
Contortion of an equally remarkable but somewhat sinister kind is displayed by a couple from Finland. The man is clad in leather and shaggy fur, the woman is a pretty ballerina. Beauty and the Beast? Or is it Pan having his wicked way with a complaisant mortal? The outlandish coupling as they perform handstands on each other seems more (or less) than human.
Looking like refugees from Royal Hunt of the Sun come a swaggering troupe of bare-chested Cuban hunks. With pectorals and biceps bulging, and with more six packs than Carlings, they catapult themselves into the air from a springboard, and get up so high they can perform several flick-flacks or somersaults before coming down. Is there a hard landing? Well, colleagues break their fall with a mattress – or on one occasion, with an armchair!
For me, however, the highest accolade must go to perhaps the unlikeliest contender. This is Tweedy the clown. He lacks a red nose and oversize boots, but his trousers have braces which do not prevent them falling down, and he does amazing things with his hat. You can call it slapstick, but his pratfalls and apparent clumsiness conceal gymnastic skill of the highest order. There is skill of a different order as well. A clown is a sad creature, and a good clown can communicate something of the sadness of the human condition – Sod’s Law, what can go wrong will go wrong. Let’s all drink to the death of a clown, sang Dave Davies. Let’s hope we won’t be doing that for Tweedy for a very long time!
After their début in the West End, Cirque Berserk return to the Big Top (or rather Mega Dome, as it is now billed) and the traditional peripatetic way of life of circus artistes. Try not to miss them at the Peacock Theatre, but if you do, the Mega Dome will be erected at Brent Cross Shopping Centre in March.