It was a balmy Sunday evening at the end of another warm and sunny weekend and many in the audience seem to have to enjoyed the weekend (and perhaps the wine) a bit too much by the time they squeezed into their seat for Last Night at the Circus. A little rowdy and unruly, they were ready to heckle for the next hour, anticipating plenty of opportunity in which to do so. Initially these disruptions seemed to wrong-foot Jane Postlethwaite; crowd control isn’t her forte. However, it wasn’t long before Postlethwaite managed to wrong-foot us all and silence the hecklers. Anyone expecting a full on comedy caper will have been startled by the raw and candid hour ahead.
This is a show which has the bravery, honesty and heart to address some of life’s most important and sensitive topics
The show started with an energetic bang as Postlethwaite bounced on stage accompanied by music and cheers. Acrobatic acts of derring-do were limited to a mimed high-wire performance and from there on in the circus metaphor was mostly retired in favour of a stark and personal discussion about a cheating ex-boyfriend and mental health. After having seen some of Postlethwaite’s previous work as a character comedian, I enjoyed seeing her step into this new direction. My favourite moment was a simple skit where she stuck a sack, decorated with an overly sad cartoon face, over her head, peering out of one enlarged eye hole as a pre-recorded track barked out ‘sad’ facts about her life. Her piercing, confused look was highly entertaining and provoked ripples of laughter and recognition throughout the audience. Costuming was also fantastic, with bobble-sided leggings, tutus, sequinned hot pants and a brilliant circus tiger mask all adding extra joy to her performance.
However, the transitions between the stand-up comedy and the frank reflections on suicide were often jarring. It was hard to know whether to laugh, or just listen, at times and this led to some uncomfortable moments. Postlethwaite was right to say that plastering the word suicide across the flyer probably wouldn’t have helped with marketing, but her reputation and the show’s title hid its poignant contents to such an extent that I think many of the audience felt a little unsettled.
Luckily, her company is warm and engaging and she filled the packed out audience with plenty of goodwill. We all silently vowed to never buy a £30 jigsaw from her ex’s new partner and we are all incredibly pleased that she decided not to buy stamps that fateful day. With some further polish and smoother shifts between topics, this is certain to be a hit - Postlethwaite definitely has the spark and gumption necessary. After all, this is a show which has the bravery, honesty and heart to address some of life’s most important and sensitive topics and if that isn’t derring-do then I don’t know what is.