In true 1950s style, the ladies in Les Femmes Circus come onto stage in polka-dot dresses, pinnies and red lipstick. Feather dusters in hand ready to clean, cook and perform their housewifely duties. Long live feminism! There is big band music in the background and a wireless radio on the table – a stylised set. The intention behind the next hour is one of three women serving stereotypical functions in the household and around the neighbourhood whilst performing acrobatic tricks with a light-hearted, family friendly, ‘girls just wanna have fun’ attitude. The reality is a clunky, underwhelming show padded out with comedy skits in an attempt to stick to theme.
Les Femmes Circus are obviously gifted acrobats and gymnasts and they prove that on stage here. The song choices are all sound, evoking memories of rock ‘n’ roll and swing. The problem is that the execution feels weak and the highly skilled routines are few and far between. When they come, the audience are impressed with the performers’ talents. Highlights include the aerial hoop and straps, but hula hoops and aerial silk also feature in the repertoire. Each is paired with a period-appropriate song that often feels too chirpy for the act in question; circus is best performed with impactful music that adds gravitas, not a backing track that makes everyone want to hold hands or merrily clap along. There could also be more difficulty in some of the acts; the hand balancing for example is competent, but the one-handed positions don’t lock in place and look unsteady. The hula hoops group number is slapdash; the moves aren’t in sync and mistakes are covered up with a stereotypical 50s housewife smile and high-pitched giggle.
Whilst improvements can be made, Les Femmes Circus should at least focus on being a circus act first and a stylised production second. Unfortunately style comes before substance in the transition pieces here. In order to pad out the show so it fits an hour slot, the threesome seem to re-enact farcical sketches that include baking a cake, going to the beach and seeking out volunteers for entirely pointless audience participation. The issue here is that there isn’t any clear comedic value in the material; it feels dated (not quite back to the 50s), overused and a desperate plea to get the audience on side. More meat needs to be added to qualify the theme, since this all feels a bit too slapdash for comfort.
Whether it be in Brighton, Edinburgh or London, the Spiegeltent is known to hire high quality circus and cabaret to amaze audiences again and again. In order to keep up with the competition, this particular troupe needs to solidify its concept and focus on the circus rather than the show.
Les Femmes Circus plays at Brighton Spiegeltent until 4 June 2016 as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For more information, see Brighton Fringe website.