Zoo Southside, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2017
Zoo Southside typically bills dance, physical theatre and new writing. A clever choice of programming for Batacchio, which highlights the circus content through contrast, drawing on an audience already primed for movement. At Circus Hub, Batacchio would be one of many, however their choice to work with a heavy velvet curtain transforms this space into a proscenium arch theatre. The work is at home in this traditional setting which allows for the playful obscuring and revealing of people and apparatus.
The eight year old company of twenty, touring multiple shows internationally, showcase seven performers in Batacchio at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017: Šárka Bočková, Michal Boltnar, Vojtěch Fülep, Daniel Komarov, Anna Schmidtmajerová, Alexandr Volný and Jiří Weissmann. Czech company Cirk La Putyka present themselves as a multidisciplinary company working with dance, acrobatics, object play, circus and theatre, making theatre and circus equal priorities. Equal they are not, however a strength in this work comes out of its dark and spangly theme of magical trickery, established by crude clowning and object play. This is balanced by grounded and fully embodied motifs and a range of circus skills. A series of montages and mini sketches form the 70 minute show which keeps it fast moving and interesting, if a little inconsistent.
The tone is warm and dark, as is the visual aesthetic, from a Caravaggio-esque man hovering on gymnastic hoops to a black spider’s web of aerial silks – complete with captured human prey. Cirk La Putyka whisk the audience through over fourteen acts and, thankfully, are not afraid to cut them off as soon as the joke is done. A quick rendition of something akin to the Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines is thoroughly enjoyable as a moustached, helmeted and fabric-winged performer is hauled up by wires in shock. A female acrobat coquettishly makes pieces of fruit disappear as she descends over them in the splits. The age old empty mirror routine is another homage to the comedy greats. It has seen many iterations since the black and white films of the 1910s and 20s, and this time two acrobats leap through the frame, horrified at their reflection as it appears on the wrong side of the mirror. A pair of human puppets endearingly come to life as their master shoves his arm up their back. The duo gradually work up to a stilted hand clapping routine, slapping each other and their master. This pays homage to classic musical theatre scenes but didn’t manage to reach its hiatus.
Sketches that don’t work are the ones that fail to reach their climax; a cropped wooden arc is rocked back and forth, balls are rolled along its centre but nothing much happens with them. The closing of the show after a twenty second act where the entire cast bumble up a clump of ropes and then just finish is absurd. Two aerial acts – one with gymnastics rings and one with two looped silks – which focus on form sit at odds with the silly Victorian magic show atmosphere. The sinister, creepy feel of this work continues through a dissection scene where a performer is drugged and laid out on a table. Bits and pieces are pulled out of his stomach in a show of illusion and of course there is room for an erection gag under the sheet. These references to vaudeville and established routines are enjoyable but never ground breaking or exceptional.
The curtain is an integral part of the show throughout, becoming one of the circus props, used in conjunction with teeter boards, framing, obscuring, revealing and isolating body parts, entire people, and all sorts of props and rigging imagined behind it to make flying and disappearing into mid-air entirely possible. The recurring curtainography allows for bodies and props to be whisked away and subtly replaced with tampered counterparts. The tricks are formed with just enough complexity and precision to tip the balance from cheesy to slick.
Ensemble phrases are continually moving with a balance or a tumble never more than a phrase of eight behind. This begins with piling onto a circling bike, continues with a constantly rearranged set of crash mats and forms the grand finale of the show with a criss-crossing cast exploding from the end of a teeterboard. The performers somersault, rotate and flip in the air, accurately landing on the other end of the board whilst maintaining the specific momentum needed to propel the next person into a perfect arc. Sometimes this means piling multiple people onto the end of a board or layering more mats beneath. This section is literally full of highs, leaving viewers satisfyingly exhausted.
This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical languages around circus arts.