Tag Archive | "Circus"

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Review: Opus, Barbican Centre

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Ed Theakston

Australian circus company Circa has revolutionised the way audiences perceive circus all over the world with its unique contemporary circus shows. Its latest work, Opus, a collaboration with the Debussy String Quartet, is no exception. It is Circa at its absolute best.

This piece uses the music of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich played live by four musicians combined with the huge Circa ensemble. Balancing so many elements is not an easy task, but Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz has done so with careful precision. Throughout the piece there is a fascinating shifting focus between individual performers, between the performers and audience, but most interesting is the engagement with both the music and the musicians. The music, and the musicians themselves, are not separated or used as merely an accompaniment. Indeed the quartet are just as essential to the piece as the Circa ensemble themselves; they are onstage, moving in and around the performers, and often interact physically with the ensemble. Occasionally, and only occasionally, it is a shame that the music is slightly pushed to the background, but this is only ever a momentary shift.

There are all the comedic and heart-stopping moments one would expect of Circa, from the fast-moving, almost slapstick sequences to the witticism of the choreography. Moments of frenetic energy accentuate the piece well. That said, there is an overriding sense of melancholy in the piece. The moments of deep emotion, intensity and humanity are inexplicably surprising in a ‘circus’ show, but executed to perfection. Indeed, this is what Circa does best.

From the first note to the very end, there are continual revelations throughout the piece. There are times when it feels like you have fallen into the wrong boarding school dormitory full of naughty school kids playing, and there are also some moments of tangible magic – for instance, when the whole ensemble appears as if out of thin air.

Brilliantly, the piece isn’t always beautiful or smooth or effortless. There are times when it is jarring and off-centre and difficult. The work is balanced on a knife-edge. Throughout, there is a sense of falling, of relying on other people and structures to hold you up. This is combined with a motif of physical – and possibly one could suggest even emotional – manipulation. Even in solos no one works alone, something else propels the movement. The balance of ensemble and individual work, of movement and stillness, is perfectly considered. There is an enduring sexual tension, but it is taut, rather than an easy sensuality. The technique of the performers is invisible but ever present; this ensemble must be one of the absolute strongest in the world.

There is a strong use of a striking lighting design, by Jason Organ, who plays with shadow and colour to tremendous effect. Libby McDonnell’s simple costumes do that wonderful thing of enhancing the piece, of adding another level of understanding to the piece, without distracting or inhibiting any of the other elements. The movement works with and against the music, but they always work for each other, and the Debussy Quartet are virtuosic, note perfect.

There is the chance that the poetic Opus is one of Circa’s best shows yet. The vast scale is impressive. The unique, experiential combination of extreme physicality and complex, difficult musicality seems made for each other. It is breath taking, detailed and yet epic. Circa’s work is monumental; its work is unlike the work of any other company. Its sublime repertoire is continuing to grow, but no matter which of their shows is next on near you, it cannot come highly recommended enough.

Opus is playing at the Barbican, until 22nd February. For more information and tickets, see

Ed Theakston

Ed Theakston

Ed has worked as an actor, director, lighting designer, and writer for a number of years. He is currently training at East 15 Acting School. He has a keen and diverse interest in theatre and has gained experience working in many different styles, from musical theatre to Stanislavski to devising. This year Ed has started writing reviews regularly for Fourthwall Magazine, and his blog ‘Into Training’ is available to read on the Fourthwall website.

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Review BE Festival: Al Cubo

Posted on 09 July 2013 by Kirsty Emmerson

Al Cubo

After a half an hour setup, I was hoping that Al Cubo would be something entertaining and spectacular. It was lovely, funny and wonderfully sentimental, but I felt a little short changed that the set up took longer, I think, than the show itself to play out.

Al Cubo was the final performance of the night, and the final performance of the festical, a sweet slapstick trio who appeared to be family – the big sister, the brother and the slightly dopey younger one – and an awful lot of buckets. To close the festival it was definitely the right choice, a light entertainment to lead into the awards and closing, with nothing but giggles and gasps ringing out across the audience throughout.

Betti Combo, the company presenting Al Cubo, is a circus trained act which relies on the physics of objects to bring its laughs. Though for any grown man or woman, watching a tower of buckets crumble should not be entertaining, something about it connects with one’s inner child, and leaves one gasping, giggling and cringing with second-hand embarrassment. Everything is deliberate, though, and without this deliberate consideration there would be no comedy. This trio rely on inch perfect timing, and millimetre perfect set-ups to provide the optimum fun, and they make light of it when it doesn’t quite go to plan.

As an opening act to a longer performance (the piece is a showcase of a longer version to be premiered early next year) Al Cubo is lovely, somewhat sentimental and filled with moments which get the audience on side. The trio knows how to bring an audience into the fold, and connect immediately in ways which cannot always be done with drama or abstract pieces, but are immediately tangible in comedy. As a bite-sized example of what is to come, Al Cubo is an enjoyable little distraction, and those interested in clowning and circus tricks should take note, because this is a master class in both.

The BE Festival ran in Birmingham from the 2-6 July 2013. It will return next year. For further information, please visit BE Festival website.

Kirsty Emmerson

Kirsty Emmerson

Final year English student, determined to get into theatre by hook or by crook, I spend half of my time reading and the other half trying to write on anything and everything I can get my hands on. Fuelled by tea and whatever new food I’m trying this week, you’ll find me in theatres or bookshops, probably mumbling about Shakespeare or the latest cricket scores.

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Review: How Like An Angel

Posted on 29 June 2013 by Amelia Forsbrook

How Like An Angel

It’s all about the high ceilings, the high ropes and the high brows in this ‘holier-than-thou’ collaboration between circus collective Circa and choral group I Fagiolini.

Presented by the Barbican as part of a season geared towards taking performance into intriguing, unexpected places, there’s something righteously rebellious about a move from the exclusive space of a conventional theatre, into the even more imposing location of a 890-year-old religious site, located at the heart of the City’s Square Mile.

At the start of this promenade show we are invited to mill around St Bartholomew’s Church, absorbing the architecture by ourselves. Some brave adventurers carry their torches into the more shadowy corners of the building, but most huddle in an awkward congregation at the centre of the space.

The angels may be yet to make an appearance at this point, but the atmosphere of this spectacular venue gives its own form of guidance — which is disappointingly under-exploited throughout the night. The architecture of this grand building demands a certain reverence but, despite the promenade style, the production gives us little opportunity to respond properly to this noteworthy setting. It therefore suffers as it leaves the meaningful bricks and mortar out of the dialogue. The equipment utilised by the circus performers appears as if it’s been awkwardly plonked into the space: this foregrounds a production that seems to milk all the meaning it can out of the medieval stonework and theologically-charged stained glass, but offers little in return in the way of interpretation.

The first sign of our performers is terribly predictable. Emerging from the mouths of shadowed faces spread throughout the church, voices pierce the reverent air and melt into the ornate corners of the architecture. Then the work takes an innovative turn, as a blue cloth is pulled over our heads. While the jury’s still out as to whether this flash of colour represents the sea or the sky, this blue line communicates — with the simplicity of a child’s drawing — the fact that a new space has been defined; as soon as we are freed from the fabric membrane that contains us, we know we’ve entered a new, celestial state.

Our first angel, portrayed with a cheeky free spirit by Paul O’Keeffe, has clearly got the same memo. A Houdini of the metaphysical world, he battles his way out of a pair of jeans as if in a rebellion against the material that binds him. His denim trousers, once a form of skin, become as instrumental as a muscle or limb in a delicate display of contortion. As O’Keeffe twists and turns, he knots the firm fabric into his routine, depending on it to stay balanced before pushing it away to stay true to his angelic role.

The stripping soon stops, but five other performers from Circa join O’Keeffe in a struggle to escape definitional confinement. The art of contortion is well-suited to this vague exploration of what it means to be an angel, as our circus artists test the limits that define the mortal body. Interacting well with thin air, our six dancers melt and glide, artfully portraying the limitations of being human as well as the strengths of being a supernatural messenger. Sometimes the forces around them keep them up, and they balance and soar improbably. Yet at other moments they are mere subjects to the laws of gravity, meaning a bold dive into the air results in a heavy, comic “thump!”.

There are six circus performers but, while they all team together to orchestrate beautiful moments of co-dependence and balance, three individuals really stand out. As strong as she is elegant, Rowan Heydon-White must be credited for bearing the weight of three fellow performers on her shoulders; it was done with such apparent ease that the trio’s showy and glamorous arrangement could be posed for the society pages of a glossy magazine. Bridie Hooper is also particularly mesmerising as she delivers an intense and breathy aerial performance, tricking the eye with her spiralling torso as she dives, balances and pouts. But despite these superhuman feminine moments, it is O’Keeffe’s performance style that truly raises the production to a higher level. In the teasing angle of his sway as he stands on the edge of a high drop, and in the boyish smile he gives as he narrowly avoids tipping ‘holy’ water over his observers, O’Keeffe delivers a fresh human touch in a work that shamelessly worships at the dual altars of pretentiousness and kitsch.

How Like An Angel’s preoccupation with climbing and falling seems theologically loaded, yet is poorly conceived and, as the piece develops, becomes tremendously dull. As performers swoop over the heads of audience members through a space that is heavy with meaning, there’s an invigorating promise in how the idea of an impressionable, static congregation is re-imagined in a place of worship. Yet despite all its transcendental movements, the production barely dips its toe into any of the themes it glides over, and lacks a certain bite. Sadly, being all style and no substance save a potent gust of hot air, How Like An Angel becomes a little too much like the ethereal beings it strives to represent.

How Like An Angel played at St Bartholomew’s Church, Smithfield between the 25 and 28 June. For more information about Beyond Barbican, which continues until 4 August, see the Barbican Centre website.

Amelia Forsbrook

Formerly one of the Wales Arts International critics, Amelia moved to London in early 2012 with two big aims: to continue working as an arts writer, and to discover whether it's ever possible to pull off both telephones and flying in theatre. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance and twentieth century European theatre, Amelia writes for a number of other publications, as well as being an Off West End Assessor.

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Ticket Offer: Two tickets for Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane for £15

Posted on 16 June 2013 by A Younger Theatre

If our feature by Eleanor Turney got you excited for Jacksons Lane’s Summer Postcards Festival then you are in luck because we have a great offer for you: buy two tickets for anything in the festival for just £15. Now in its third year, the festival presents a huge range of circus and cabaret work, and we think you are going to love it. See below for a bit more information about the festival and then scroll down to claim the offer.


Jacksons Lane
Postcards Festival
13-29 June

Favourites and future stars from the circus and cabaret world are coming together for Jacksons Lane’s Summer Postcards Festival. Featuring all-female acrobatic outfit Mimbre, juggler-comedian Mat Ricardo and a man dressed as a dragon, this is your invitation to join us for two weeks of funny, outrageous and awe-inspiring performance.

Claim the offer
Use this offer for two tickets to the same show, or one ticket for two different shows. To book, use promo code “CABARET” online at or over the phone via the Box Office on 020 8341 4421. Please note that tickets are subject to a £1.95 booking fee.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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