Reviewed – 5th February 2018
“The evening is seemingly haphazard, yet you know it is welded with extreme precision”
There’s something refreshing about a pre-show announcement that gives the instruction: “please DO NOT switch off your mobile phones during this performance”. Indeed, photography and filming is encouraged, as is heckling and, of course, cheering. It is a taste of the perfectly choreographed anarchy that is to follow.
Cirque Berserk’s aim is to combine the centuries-old skills and traditions of the touring circus troupe with a contemporary approach to staging. The Big Top comes to the West End – a huge and diverse undertaking bringing together over thirty-five performers from as far afield as Kenya, Cuba, Mongolia, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and the UK. But these are not just skilled performers. They are characters too, which adds to the evening by shrouding the spectacle in sheer joyful theatricality.
It is a joy ride from start to finish. The talent on offer makes us forget the endless hard work and lifetime of practice that must go into such a production. Instead you just enjoy the adrenalin rush, sometimes missing a heart beat, sometimes discovering your haven’t breathed for a while. The Berserkers (as they call themselves) perform entirely without safety devices. You wonder, too, at the dexterity of the human form. How can mere mortals do this to themselves? The ‘Timbuktu Tumblers’ open the proceedings. The health and safety officials in the wings must be on constant high alert as the seemingly inflammable acrobats burn with more energy than the fire they play with. Swiftly followed by ‘Bolas Argentinas’ who use their bodies and some scary looking hunting weapons as a collective percussion instrument.
Odka, the “Lady from the Bottle” is just that. Apparently vacuum packed inside a tiny bell jar she emerges; a feat in itself, but she then uses her own feet to perform archery with a perfect aim while the rest of her body defies the laws of nature. Next up… I want to list them all but I realise I will have to limit myself. It is like being forced to admit to having a favourite child. But there are highlights; most notably Germaine Delbosq, the foot juggler and Toni the knife thrower, and the climactic ‘Globe of Death’. A melodramatic and arguably clichéd title, but a fitting finale. Mere description won’t do justice here – I’d urge anybody reading this to go and see Cirque Berserk for themselves.
There is an overriding cheekiness to the show; a cheekiness shared by ‘Tweedy’ the clown who threads the whole show together. His comic timing and interaction with the audience is matched by his inventive use of ladders, tightropes and bicycles.
The evening is seemingly haphazard, yet you know it is welded with extreme precision. Part of the enjoyment of acts like these is the vicarious sense of danger, and the concentration we are forced to share. The performers cannot afford to drift for one nano-second. Yet they make it look easy, fun, careless and chaotic.
It is berserk, undoubtedly, but brilliant!
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Piet Hein-Out
Peacock Theatre until 17th February