Le Coup, in the Underbelly Circus Hub’s ‘The Beauty’ tent, is perfectly programmed. The dim lighting, roving spotlights, and tight-packed audience up close to the round stage perfectly evokes the ‘neo-Vaudevillian’ atmosphere set by the production. Six circus performers and three musicians roam the space in character, chatting to the audience and bouncing off each other. Then, the show begins.
A perfectly fun night out at the circus.
The aesthetic of the show carries through into its structure. The Boss emcees four ‘fights’ between four challengers and the reigning king of the ring, as well as five interlude acts. The band underscore the entire show and take center stage a few times. Each fighter has a ring name and a quadrant of the audience is encouraged to cheer and chant for them. While the structure is creative, the reality is that partner or group acrobatics are an inherently collaborative endeavour and with the exception of a few thrilling moments, it’s very difficult to believe that the characters are fighting or even really competing. The narrative also breaks down as the show progresses, from very clear 1v1 rounds to more confusing involvement from King (the champion) and the Boss in later rounds.
The acts between ‘fights’ were definitely the highlights. A doubles trapeze act that dispensed with the laboured ‘competition’ of the acrobatics was particularly strong, though the other acts – singles trapeze, two spinning sling straps acts, a very impressive handstand moment, and a clown act brilliant in its simplicity – were also incredible fun. The band’s moments, including a very funny performance by ‘the Murderess’, diversified the line-up and were more than welcome additions that kept the energy up.
Unfortunately, the energy of the audience needed keeping up – transitions between acts were relatively slow, and the gaps were filled mainly with grandstanding from the emcee. It was made very clear that the audience were expected to cheer, boo, and chant, which worked in the showier, faster paced sections. Other times, however, the choreography was focused on difficulty over showmanship, which is in itself impressive and admirable. It doesn’t, however, work well when the default method of filling a gap is to encourage the audience to cheer wildly and indiscriminately. If Le Coup doesn’t quite live up to its name, it’s still a perfectly fun night out at the circus.