There’s popcorn and candyfloss on sale as the audience make their way into the Lafayette big top at Underbelly’s Circus Hub. A mic’d-up carnival barker is giving it the hard sell and ensuring there’s a long line of families ready to fork out £3 per portion. As I had made a point of arriving early for this sold-out show, I watch this for over 20 minutes and realise that there’s possibly more money to be made in sideshow snacks than circus stunts. But now that the children have been filled with sugar and expectations are high, we open with a Rube Goldberg machine that kicks things off and sets the stage for what is clearly going to be a very silly show.
A fun and energetic hour of classic circus with a hint of a contemporary edge
The Revel Pucks provide a fun and energetic hour of classic circus with a hint of a contemporary edge. Highlights include Annie Bachman bringing a hint of classic flying trapeze on the cloud swing, a fun ensemble tumbling routine with a swinging chainsaw, and a beautiful straps routine from Imani Vital. Fiona Thornhill’s cyr wheel act is solid and draws applause and gasps but it’s preceded by a skit where the wheel has supposedly gone missing and not much happens until it’s resolved without any punchline when the wheel is simply rolled onto the stage. A hand to hand acrobatics routine is perfectly serviceable but it’s essentially a huge man lifting a tiny woman which is a bit of a played-out cliché from which most contemporary circus has been trying to avoid. Unfortunately, one of the opening gags is a male-presenting cast member in a dress. It gets the requisite laugh, but it feels cheap. I would hope that we’re past “bloke in a dress” being a punchline in itself and when the performer then spends the rest of the show in clearly male-coded clothing, I’m left to wonder what was the point? We get a similar moment later in the show when Luke Hallgarten draws a laugh from the audience by stripping off their outfit to reveal a sparkly leotard before performing an admittedly fantastic juggling routine.
The star of this circus is Arielle Lauzon’s often put upon clown. Lauzon is the hardest-working person in the show as they work the audience with playful charm, run around cleaning up after the rest of the cast, and literally flip around the stage in a very cute battle with a cuddly lion. The interactions with the lion seem to be the main thrust of the show’s theme and every time Lauzon is on stage is a highlight.
The Revel Puck Circus: The Wing Scuffle Spectacular is a long enough title, and in an opening voiceover duologue, we’re told that there’s another subtitle: Lionheart. The intention being that this show is all about facing your fears. It’s a lovely concept for a circus show aimed at children but, apart from a couple of routines which attempt to show the performers struggling with fear of what they're about to do and the ongoing battle between Lauzon’s clown and the toy lion, the theme is generally ignored by most of the acts. The show as a whole feels disjointed and more like a series of vignettes rather than an integrated performance. The set-up and striking for each routine is often clumsy and drawn out with little to engage the easily distracted children in the audience. With some tighter direction or a little work from a dramaturg, this could be an incredible show with a real message about facing your fears, no matter how small. I’ll be watching this young company with interest and genuinely expect great things.