‘All Genius All Idiot’, by Svalbard

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 12th August 2017

This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical languages around circus arts.

Ben Smith and Santiago Ruiz in ‘All Genius All Idiot’

I’m trying to analyse why I had such a negative reaction to this show.

The circus skills were high, there was an apparent aesthetic, the music was interesting, and the rest of the audience around me were having a whale of a time.

Knowing nothing about the company, I looked at their website after the show and had a similar response to the words written there: This feast of a performance has three main courses; a powerful onslaught of contemporary dance, a pumping concert from a transvestite moose and of course a relentless smash of circus tricks.

‘All Genius All Idiot’, by Svalbard

It just all feels too forced. The piles of interesting props on stage that are never used or explained; the deliberately odd costumes that seem to have no relevance; the vague characterisations that are either interesting but under-explored, or affectatious and alienating; the promise in the first half of a narrative that might make sense of it all at some point… But then doesn’t.

An audience creates narrative from everything they experience in a performance – the set, the sounds, the action, the words, the facial expressions and body language – and we are ultimately short-changed if the theatre-makers don’t acknowledge this and present instead something incoherent.

The last third of the show consists of a long series of false endings, with a shouted plea to the audience at one point, “I don’t understand your silence, c’mon...”, and gestures for us to make more noise. Except that’s not the end, and I still have to sit through some simulated sex acts, an angsty poem about ’emotional sodomy’ and some aggressive operatic singing.

Reading back over the notes I made on the night, the reason for my irritation is pretty obvious. With apparently no commitment to the ‘why’ in any of the creative choices taken, this show feels like a self-indulgent stage-wank.


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