Zoo Southside, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2017
Batacchio, by award winning Czech company Cirk La Putyka, is only doing a half-run at this years Edinburgh Fringe, which is a shame as there are so many more people I want to take to see it.
The set is framed by giant golden curtains which are opulent but past their best, and as the characters begin to introduce themselves, the sense begins to develop that this is less of a circus show, and more like stepping into a Lynchian circus carnival nightmare.
Featuring a clown, a diva, a living doll woman and a troupe of male acrobatic chorus gents in waistcoats and sock suspenders, Batacchio is heavily stylised and steeped in the nostalgia and aesthetics of turn of the century stage show performances. There is also a very considered lighting design and an original musical score which develops a sense of foreboding and the uncanny.
Containing as much stage magic and illusion as circus, there is a sense that what we are seeing is not a simple recreation of the past as much as it is a warped mirror (quite literally in one scene). Most of the show is performed in front of the curtains and is clearly for our gaze as an audience, whereas when the curtain is fully pulled back it feels much more like a dreamworld. A space for surreally erotic clown dance numbers, trick bicycles, an unfathomable mass of black entanglement, and an astonishing group teeterboard act where the cast flip, rotate, summersault, return to the board, melt to the floor and reform like liquids, colliding and transporting mats and each other around the space in one of the most satisfying fusions of circus technique and evocative choreography I’ve seen in a long time.
To my mind, Cirk la Putyka are at their best when they push the boundaries into sinister areas and, although not as truly dark as the company’s previous production Dolls – which came to Edinburgh in 2015 – Batacchio definitely has its moments. From non-consensual psychic surgeries to human glove puppets and disappearing root vegetables, this show has a visceral quality that adds to its transgressive carnival sensibilities and plays into our fears about what running away with the circus might actually entail.
That is not to say it is a perfect show. There are scenes which feel under developed, particularly the final group rope number, and some of the characterisation could have been pushed further. However I am a huge fan of the aesthetically lead nature of the work and showing circus which is poetic, palpable, and evocative.
This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical languages around circus arts.