My evening had not got off to a good start. My +1 was late, my pinot grigio was sour, and I was lamenting my incapacity to deal with such minor issues. But as I walked across Preston Park, catching the smell of popcorn with a grand marquee in sight, I was invigorated: The circus was in town.
Gleefully, I explored the mini-world of candy floss, Russian merchandise and high-quality portable toilets. While fringe festivals largely take place in the cosy (/overcrowded) upstairs of pubs, secondary to their venue, the Moscow State Circus is a grand, standalone event that dwarfs its competitors: An established, professional show with a big budget. As such, it is difficult not to put it on a pedestal.
And it wasn’t just the setting: some of the gymnastics were incredible. Early on in the show, a woman circled three hoops – one on her neck and one on each foot – while suspended mid-air. Later, three jugglers played catch with dizzying rapidity as they rotated on a podium. The performers were all accompanied by bizarre, incongruous props and a sometimes intense mixture of trance music and strobe lightning – altogether, it provided quite the spectacle.
However, the backbreaking acrobatics were interspaced with the markedly less enjoyable performance of two clowns. They occasionally entertained with some truly creative theatre – as when they simulated rain through sticking a water bottle on the peak of an umbrella. Mostly, however, they were predictable and banal.
The finale was also lacking in bite, constituting a series of repetitive and not hugely impressive acrobatic jumps, after which the circus congregated on stage to clap in 4/4 rhythm – not quite the vast human pyramid I was expecting.
Nonetheless, the Moscow State Circus provides guaranteed entertainment gelled with an eccentric charm. Definitely one of the Fringe’s more reliable offerings.