New Milton, Hampshire; 29th August 2014, 3pm
Circus Ginnett is a small touring company, which keeps traditional circus arts alive whilst travelling to today’s family audience’s around the UK.
The crisp reds, whites and blues of their cute 2-pole big top, and little circle of wagons, suggest that the troupe are going to present something clean, and relevant to modern audiences – without neglecting the 200 years of circus history tied into the Ginnett family name. This impression is enhanced by the upbeat contemporary pop music playing over the speakers as we enter the tent.
Although the season is heading towards its end, the white plastic garden chairs that make up the rows of audience seating are all in top condition, and paintwork and canvas of the site well-maintained. A small kitchen wagon selling popcorn and refreshments sits just inside the tent, next to the central raised stage that forms this afternoon’s performance area. Members of the company are selling the flashing wands and spinning plates that form a part of so many tenting circus experiences these days.
The show’s core is in the classical relationship between ringmaster (László Schlingloff) and clown (Anton Werkman, aka Clown Antonio), which gives us plenty of laughs between the more lyrical or daring physical acts. Antonio is the company’s strongest asset, babbling away to himself as he goes about his mischievous business, but always clear and open in the moments that we need to understand.
The Circus Ginnett’s technical team do a fantastic job with co-ordinating sound and lighting to build atmosphere, and it’s a shame that the dramatic opening of pumping beats and haze isn’t used as a launchpad for the performers to burst onstage with the same thrilling energy. Instead the artists saunter in after the Robert Miles track fades away, posing within a large frame for Clown Antonio to paint their picture – but breaking out into glow-poi, ribbon dance or gymnastics whenever his back is turned. The concept is fun (and the young children behind me love seeing 5-year old Yana, ‘the youngest hula-hoop artist in the world’) but the supposed mischief feels very by-the-book, and I want to see more enjoyment and playfulness from the models.
László, dressed in a smart black military costume, introduces Nedialko Nedialkov from Bulgaria, who presents a slow contact staff spin, and then picks up in energy and passion as he moves on to spinning a large silver cube frame. The music choice, silver suit and gauntlets make me think of a futuristic gladiator, and the coloured lights changing in time to the rhythms of the act make a powerful impression.
We get to see how much Clown Antonio loves his saw, as he plays a well-sold rendition of O Sole Mio – the first of several musical surprises he presents us with over the course of the show.
Anke De Boer enters looking quirky and chic, offering a little tap dancing to Björk classic, It’s Oh So Quiet. The steps are better timed after the beat of the song kicks in and then, after unceremoniously handing over props and outer costume to a waiting ring-hand, she moves into an aerial act. Anke’s multi-purpose kit is shaped like a Christmas star, and includes a trapeze bar, ankle loop, and hanging silks, giving the routine lots of room for variety of movement and technique.
My favourite moment is when she drops into a split after returning to the ground at the end of her act, and shares with us the most wonderful clown moment. I’d love to have seen more of that humour injected into her aerial antics.
Antonio tries to appease László with his juggling skills, before Nedialko returns with partner Veselka Metodieva for a sedate adagio acrobalance routine to the romantic theme from Titanic. They appear fully confident in each other’s support, and there are a few sweet moments when the romanticism of the backing track is carried through into their onstage connection with each other. Nedialko has a beautiful smile that I can’t help but warm to.
The first half of the show is closed by another teasing musical entrée from Antonio and László. British audiences aren’t as ready to clap along as those I’ve experienced in mainland Europe, and I feel a bit awkward clapping in time because I ‘should’, rather than having been genuinely enthused to join in. The clapping for my applause is real though.
During the neatly short interval, I’m disappointed by the disrepair of the portaloo toilets behind the smart exterior housing. Although clean and smell-free, neither has toilet paper, a lock, or a flushing mechanism (however, when I ask at the concession stand for some paper napkins, they are freely given, with a look of surprise and apology that there was nothing available in the loos).
The second half begins with an introduction to ‘police’ dog Vader, and a bag of jewels dangling above the stage. Patrick Austin, who now runs Circus Ginnett with his son Luke, is the sneaky burglar who will try and steal them, but is scuppered time and again by Vader leaping from his police box and toppling Austin’s plans. The dog seems very excitable today, and the continuous barking is grating. Luckily, Austin is a strong enough clown to carry off the act regardless of how his unpredictable partner behaves, and the unexpected happenings and liveliness are very entertaining if rather messy.
A sharp-shooting act between the ringmaster and his clown companion is well plotted. The two have a great balance of authority and misrule between them that leaves our respect for each intact during every encounter.
Veselka presents a hula hoop act in a white feathered cat costume, splitting five hoops, and then catching a superstition-ridden 13. She has good energy, and looks to be having fun, but there was no stand-out feature of the act to makes it memorable for me, and I wonder if the thread of the routine was lost because we Brits tend to associate black, rather than white, cats with luck?
Little Yana appears for her spot, and works up to six hoops with shining eyes and natural bright, charming, smiles. She is as bendy as you’d expect from someone so young, and amusingly precocious with her jaunty poses and blown kisses.
As a large mystery contraption is secured first to the stage, and then to a motorbike, the suspense is lifted by Antonio and his delicate cowbells. Then the ‘Easy Riders’ (Austin and De Boer) appear for the finale act that incorporates aerial stirrups, ankle and neck spins, with fire, knives, and a circling motorbike that propels the two around the stage.
As the performing company take their bows, it comes as a surprise to be reminded that they’re only six strong (plus a child and a dog). Circus Ginnett provides great variety, with an open, friendly spirit throughout, proving that size isn’t everything when it comes to good family entertainment.