“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.
“a vibrant energetic show with top class performers“
Soho is billed as “a thrill ride of circus, street and theatre performance, re-creating the exciting, edgy and voyeuristic world of London’s Soho … celebrating every inch of the magical square mile”, quite a lot to live up to in under two hours. On some levels the show delivers, but just as in the real Soho, we have bits that are really good and exciting and other sections that just need boarding up for redevelopment.
Before looking a bit more at the show, I’d just state that the twelve ensemble cast are a hugely talented young team of dancers and acrobats and cannot be faulted. Their skill, stamina and physical strength throughout is utterly amazing.
The show itself starts on the tube and is a pretty good opening piece leaving expectations high for the rest of the show. We’re introduced to a young man who finds himself in Soho (quite why, we’re never entirely sure) on a journey around some of its most well known present and former haunts – Madame Jojo’s, The Colony Room Club, Bar Italia and China Town to name just a few. Those sections of Soho that aren’t fully visited with a complete scene, are cleverly shown with some neat projections.
The stage at The Peacock is wide, something like forty feet and the show uses it all. Dance, acrobatics and theatre all going on. Unfortunately this is not always a good thing as at times, there is just too much going on in different corners, making it very easy to miss out on something.
Many aspects of the show work well and are a joy to watch – the live mannequin, the giant eye watching the peep show, but a lot of the scenes went on far too long – the drag act on the trapeze for one (probably not helped by there being quite a lot of trapeze work in the show anyway, which despite the undoubted skill of the performers, got a little bit repetitive).
Many scenes also held little relevance to Soho and could have been anywhere; The random homo-erotic gym scene because “there are gyms in Soho”, and the bathroom scene (which I’ve yet to fathom out exactly what it had to do with anything) were fun to watch but just too vague in the story.
Soho Square Gardens featured in one scene – the projection showing an urban fox being persued by a foxhunt – why ??? Reminiscing sixties psychedelic trips perhaps, but nothing really again to do with Soho.
Although there are several nods to the seedy history of the area (one scene sees a pimp kicking one of his girls on the floor), so much about the area is just not portrayed, or is glossed over quite quickly. Where’s the scenes showing the multiculturalism and where’s the gentrification that has forced the closure of so many of the iconic venues shown? Theatres too make up a huge part of Soho life, yet barely a mention of them either. Perhaps I was expecting more to be told about the history of the area than the series of seemingly random and often irrelevant scenes we got.
The soundtrack (not live) is a mixture of hits through the decades and at times keeps the show going during the performance pieces that have gone on a little too long.
Was this a vibrant energetic show with top class performers? A definite yes. Was this a great representation of the real Soho, alas no. Go and see it for the performers and not for the Soho story.