‘Cirque Berserk’, 2019

Review from: The Pleasance EICC, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 15th August 2019

Unlike theatre, circus shows have the ability to safely ‘give away their ending’. Some even base their entire marketing hype on it… Spoilers are welcome! Spread the word! This is what you will see at this show! The biggest and most dangerous act is often their unique selling point. So it is with Cirque Berserk, their posters and flyers showcasing their Globe of Death – a globe that multiple motorbikes ride around simultaneously, crossing paths and avoiding collisions. Hopefully.

This stunt is often associated with a high risk of injury or death. Perhaps not what many would expect from a family circus show, and yet the theatre is full. Hundreds of children and families taking their seats, there are programs to buy, popcorn to eat and light up swords to wave. The classic circus music is playing. The Globe sits centre stage, lit up and waiting… It’s all feeling very traditional until suddenly the lights dim and an announcement is played, letting you know you can watch the show on two huge screens either side of the stage, and encouraging you to keep you phones on, to take pictures, tag and share what you see on Facebook and Snapchat.

The show’s acts come thick and fast. There’s acrobatics, hoop diving, clowning, spinning bolas double act, knife throwing, fire, dancers, antipodism, chair balancing, contortion. Almost every circus act you could get people to think of is in this show (they even throw in a giant robot stilt walker for good measure). Special mention should be given to Jackie for the aerial straps and Paulo Dos Santos for acrobatic tumbling.

In between each act we are kept entertained by dancers and acrobats, never is there a still moment. The final stunt of five motorbike riders inside the Globe goes down well, with people cheering as each new driver is added. Lights inside help the audience keep track of the craziness, gasps as the Globe wobbles and shakes with the weight of all 5 bikes swirling round. The hardest part is going from fast to an abrupt stop at the end, as each bike lines themselves up carefully within the Globe one by one the engines die down. A standing ovation for the stunt team. After the show the whole cast is available to meet for selfies and high fives in the foyer. Children rush to sit on a toy motorbike and have their picture taken, maybe even get some Cirque Berserk merchandise…

One of the Lucius Team stunt motorbike riders in Cirque Berserk IMAGE: Piet-Hein Out

The creative team have clearly gone with the idea of throw enough at an audience and something will stick. If you don’t like one act, don’t worry it’ll only be a minute or two before another takes their place. The acts range from high level circus skills from seasoned performers, to side show stunts and tricks. Sometimes there’s a pirate theme, or a traveling gypsies theme, or even a futuristic owl theme. None of it really ties together, and the predictable story of ‘sad clown feels left out out, oh an aerialist appears does a trick above him and they fall in love’ doesn’t really deliver an emotional side of things. Unfortunately, that’s the level that many people in the UK expect from traditional circus, and if you wanted a circus show that has emotion there are plenty of others to see here at the Fringe instead.

It’s very easy to forget all the things you’ve seen, and when the cast return for a final bow you can be forgiven for not knowing what it was they were doing. Maybe that’s why they want you to use your phone to record it all. (And maybe it makes for more return visits year on year? Ed.)

Cirque Berserk is a perfectly fine circus show, certainly for young children. However, once over the feeling of nostalgia, adults and the tricky to entertain age group of over 10’s may find little special to sustain them. Cirque Berserk’s angle is two fold: firstly that it is ‘circus for theatre’. It certainly is a circus happening in a theatre. However it doesn’t come across at all that anything has been adapted apart from them having a ‘set’ remain on stage (the infamous Globe makes up a backdrop with other chunks of metal, but remains largely irrelevant to the rest of the show). Having the clowns do a short storyline is not uncommon and only really provides a plot to two of the acts. This is, when looked at critically, a rather poor excuse for blending circus with theatre and if they hadn’t mentioned it over and over no one would think they were doing it.

The second – and more heavily marketed angle – that Cirque Berserk take is that of ‘new and extreme!’ circus. But unfortunately the show remains in the conventional formula, with conventional roles and acts. There is no challenging of the audience here. There are no acts that we have not seen the like of before, in fact anyone who makes a yearly visit to Blackpool Tower Circus might get a strong feeling of deja vu! The performers of the show could be challenging their skill, their art, and to watch them they all seem a bit…unchallenged. And not in a ‘they make that look easy’ way. It feels like there’s no pushing of boundaries, and that’s hardly extreme. Four clubs isn’t a juggling act to write home about in itself these days, neither is doing the splits on straps, neither are somersaults. The acts may be well performed but they are not as advertised: not new and not extreme.

Innovation may be the oldest tradition of circus there is, and there are lots of ideas now about what can make circus new and extreme. Cirque Berserk better keep up, because if not they’ll be left behind like so many other circus companies clinging to what they believe is tradition. And no amount of extra screens and hashtags will save them.


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