If you’ve ever been to a surprise party, you know the awkward anticipation of waiting for the guest of honour to arrive. In Sophie’s Surprise 29th, the cast do an excellent job of getting that awkwardness going from the very start by clambering over us as we enter the Spiegeltent. Party hits are playing and party hats are being issued, glitter and Lynx Body Spray is being liberally applied to anyone who stays still long enough, and a shady character is apparently dealing what appear to be Jammie Dodgers. It’s clear from the outset that this is going to be an epic party.
If Sophie’s friends decide to throw a surprise 30th, I’ll be there with my party hat on
We don’t have to wait long for the birthday girl to arrive though. Sophie is introduced in the person of a seemingly random audience member who must be credited with how cool she is with suddenly being the centre of attention in an opening dance/acrobatics routine that sets the stage for a crazy hour of circus, comedy, and chaos.
Young company, Three Legged Race Productions has created a show that stands out by being so joyfully crass that you can’t help but love it. The concept is simple: we’re at a party, possibly in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, with a selection of misfits and weirdos. There’s a chav, a goth, a party girl, the “ugly” girl, the cool chick, and the drug dealer. Each character is clearly defined from the outset, and all play their roles to perfection. But there’s circus alongside the comedy and each performer does an excellent job of showing off their skills.
Standout moments include an effortless straps routine by Cornelius Atkinson’s Goth character. He holds his moribund expression for the whole piece before delighting the birthday girl and the audience with a reading of his Twilight erotic fan fiction. Nathan Redwood Price and Isis Clegg-Vinell astound with a classic roller-skate act that hits all the speedy stunts you’d expect and is momentarily derailed with a cute moment where Price hangs a lantern on the class stereotypes on display. It’s a funny and self-aware moment that allows the audience of “liberal elites” to continue along the wild ride without any social guilt. Katharine Arnold’s Ugly Duckling character gets to shine in a high-energy aerial hoop performance that takes place after her inevitable 1980’s romcom makeover. Nella Niva embodies the chaotic party girl with some frantic acrobatics on giant gym balls while Sam Goodburn does his very best to steal the show with a combination of clowning, biscuit juggling, and a unicycle routine that’s unlike any I’ve ever seen. A crowd-pleasing moment sees Price’s Chav, all bravado and body spray competes with Atkinson’s Goth for the love (or at least, lust) of Clegg-Vinell in an act where hand to hand is mixed with trapeze. It’s a fantastic routine that showed off the strength and skills of all three although I would have loved to see Clegg-Vinell base the boys. But to be honest, every act in this show is a standout moment. How could it not be with a cast of alumni from Cirque du Soleil, No Fit State, and Ecole Superieure des Arts de Bruxelles.
I never particularly enjoy parties, I’m too shy and always end up nursing a warm beer in the corner or spending the whole night petting the dog. However, if Sophie’s friends decide to throw a surprise 30th, I’ll be there with my party hat on.