The Blackpool Tower Circus, Blackpool; 4pm, 22nd April 2017
A circus set inside a building specially constructed for that purpose is a magical thing, especially when that building is adorned with the elaborate Victorian design details of master theatre architect Frank Matcham. Between the four legs of the famous Blackpool Tower is the circus arena, decked out now with 21st Century lighting that highlights the ropes of rigging, and with video screens that play behind-the-scenes footage of the show’s creation whilst we take to our steeply raked seats around the ring.
Mooky, as interpreted by Laci Endresz Jr, is the third-generational incarnation of the clown, and the show is built around his character and the teasing interactions played out with his brother, the charmingly pompous ringmaster Mr Boo (Tom ‘Bubu’ Endresz – the pair are brothers in real life too). Mooky keeps up the whippy verbal pace of Paul O’Grady, bestrewing the show with gags old and new, all tempered to reach a contemporary audience of young and old. As the show begins, the pair also have an opportunity to add their musical talents to the live band who play throughout with instrumental classics and covers from musical theatre, pop and rock’n’roll halls of fame.
Showgirls in feathered top-hats and tails are joined by the whole company of artistes for an opening kickline, which gives way to the youthful Ethiopian Risley act of Negasi and Bajo. The smaller man is launched again and again from his partner’s feet in a quick succession of smiling tumbles and horizontal spinning tosses, leading into a ‘world record attempt’ of somersaults in a full backwards stretch. There is something about the simplicity of this act and its dynamic energy that make it one of my favourites within this classical setting; it doesn’t conflict with the historic grandeur of the building, but fits perfectly within it for a modern audience.
The Cuban team of acrobats who perform later on the flying trapeze have a Jailhouse Rock number that combines precision timing on twin Chinese poles with Korean cradle inspired pitching under a sequin-lit ceiling. With four men and one woman in the team, it’s refreshing to see that stereotypical gender clichés play no part in the choreography.
Alex Michael performs his superb skywalk and trapeze act at the top of the roof with no net beneath and, threaded through everything, are Mooky and Mr Boo with cleverly crafted comedy entrées and uproarious ad-libs.
During the interval, audience members are invited down into the red-carpeted ring for face-painting or photo opportunities with the star clowns. Flashing wands, spinning plates and posters are all offered for sale but, somewhat surprisingly, there is no programme. The show is only three weeks into its 8-month run, and I wonder if perhaps a delay at the printers is the cause. Luckily I’m here today with the Circus Friends Association, and the circus management have been kind enough to supply us with a printed list of acts (even here though, the conventions of giving performance titles rather than performer credits is upheld, so apologies to all those I’ve not been able to name!).
The second part of the show begins with haze, rock music, flashing lights, and some eerie fairies who dance up a sparkling caped queen. It’s a little twee, and a little oddly Halloweeny, but Romana Michael’s ensuing foot juggling act sends glittering webs spinning over and between her raised arms and legs, and then up for an aerial finale in an eye-catching way.
The slack-line that follows is edge-of-my seat impressive. With shiny straps of costume criss-crossing her body and glinting mesmerisingly in the light, Huang Yang stacks balance on top of balance, upending herself to pedal a unicycle with her hands or stand inverted on a short ladder atop the freely swinging line.
The UV-lit flying trapeze troupe swing and somersault through the air, with Mr Boo below to emphasis the danger of attempted feats. The ring is left in darkness while Mooky sends members of the audience special birthday greetings, and attention is diverted from the impressive spectacle of the lowering ring-floor and its swift flooding, which seems a shame to me, having never seen its like before.
Through the watery haze, lights slowly reveal a mermaid twisting in a net above the central mechanism, which propels floating harps and roman chariots around the indoor lake that’s appeared before us. Mint greens and peach lighting soften central fountains, and the charioteers glide serenely through the water recalling the circus tradition of living statuary. I fear my enjoyment may have been spoiled by regularly encountering spectacle on a larger scale, but ‘harpists’ Duo Yulianet hanging from their hair is a nice surprise touch.
Turquoise gowns and bow-tie evening wear bring the entire company back to the ring fence for a finale of bows and sparkling water jets and, as the audience begin to leave and the ring floor drains to rise back into position, the central goddesses are helped down from their perches by their fellow performers; the backstage camaraderie and team spirit that we watched in the opening credits video is glimpsed again in the flesh. These are the circus traditions that Blackpool Tower Circus is keeping alive and accessible to audiences who flock to the seaside town each year, and they should not be missed.