Circus Maximus

The heats are on! Swing by Udderbelly at the Southbank Centre if you like a little circus in your summer – whenever summer decides to arrive – because Circus Maximus, the UK’s first circus competition, has landed.

Some of the country’s finest circus talents compete in the iconic purple Udderbelly for the votes of the audience and judges. Over the course of the next month, 20 acts will compete in Circus Maximus for the grand prize of £5,000 and the opportunity to develop a new show with Underbelly Productions and Circus Space – on of the UK’s foremost centres for circus arts. I attended the second part of the first heat which featured four rounds, one for each act, the heat lasting for an hour in total. The acts were delightful and diverse. Firstly there was juggling and unicycling followed by hula hoops, then strength handstands and dance, then trapeze, and finally aerial hoop.

Tweed-suited Sam Goldburn’s act set the sweet charm of a Chaplin-esque, face-pulling juggler and unicycle trickster to a contemporary bass line, and it worked a treat. This is a man who can juggle balls with his feet and unicycle with one leg. The second act featured Sylvia Pavone with several sparkly hula hoops, with which she managed to create a swirling light show and perform tricks that made the hoops appear stationary, even as they rotated around her arms. It was a good few seconds before I realised they were spinning.

The third act was my favourite: this was Jonathan Finch’s Danse Macabre. With a set of balancing poles at waist height he performed a movement piece of tremendous strength where the focus was on the body alone; the emotion he got across in the act was what I found particularly stunning and moving to behold. I won’t lie, Finch got my vote. Alcina Mendes approached her trapeze act from an interesting angle. She played a character, Maria the Cleaner, and created her own little scene in which she came blundering through the audience onto the stage, ranting about everything being a mess, her goal being to clean the trapeze with her spray and wash gloves. A lot of her movements and tricks on the trapeze were pulled off as if by accident. You know a person excels at their skill when they play the casual card.

And finally there was graceful Gemma Creasey on the aerial hoop, which ended with a terrifying (and deliberate) face-first drop to the floor that had the people next to me clutching their hair.

Sylvia Pavone won the heat, but all the acts were so watchable and so different that I almost felt mean by voting. Circus Maximus is definitely worth checking out: the talents and spectacles are surely only going to get more impressive as the heats go on.

The remaining heats of Circus Maximus run from May 14-19, and the finals run from May 28-June 1. For more information and tickets, visit the Underbelly website.