New Town Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival; 10th August 2014
When Jamie Adkins appears onto the darkened stage to find an audience already waiting for him, he has us giggling from the first moments, as he tries to put together his grand act to impress us. And impress he does.
With illusion, juggling, one-man slapstick, equilibristics and a bag of groceries, Circus Incognitus is a light, family friendly show, that highlights Adkin’s strong repertoire of skills, and constant comedy bamboozlement at the world around him. Adkins was a member of Cirque Éloize for many moons, and the high calibre of performance they are known for is also apparent in the quality of his solo work here.
Subtly painted eyebrows are the only nod towards stereotypical clown make-up, and they emphasise Adkin’s anxious-to-please demeanour, and bemusement at our reactions. When he thinks things have gone wrong, we laugh; when he thinks he deserves applause, he has to prompt us with a puzzled gesture. The cymbal that he uses to gently reprimand us when we ‘forget’ to clap helps keep the energy high and the audience vibrant.
Only five minutes in, I hear the 9 year old girl in front of me delightedly tell her mother, ‘I love this!’ – a phrase she will repeat over and over again during the course of the show.
Highlights include a smashing sequence where audience members are asked to pelt the confident Adkins with pieces of fruit, which he catches in the most remarkable way. He has no shortage of volunteers.
I’m most impressed with a section of risky ladder work, as he tries to string his slack rope for the grand finale; I’ve never seen such highly refined balance skills used in such a sophisticated clown routine.
When he juggles ping-pong balls from his mouth, Adkins takes the time to play with the facial contortions the act produces, and the way he punishes and forgives a rogue ball are brilliant.
Sometimes he works genuinely from the responses we give him, but at others sticks to moving along the pre-plotted routines of the show – they are funny and well-done, but don’t always seem entirely natural. It’s one of the biggest difficulties in producing a clown show.
The trajectory of the Circus Incognitus is clear, and Adkins is adept at setting up moments that we will greet again with surprise later in the show. When he finally makes it onto his slack-rope above the stage, he proves excellent in his ability to shift focus and keep us in on the conversation as he slides and steps his way along the wobbly rope, topping it with a 5 ring toss juggle before making his way down. Mission completed.