From the moment we cross into the circle of caravans leading up to the big top we are transported into a different world. A lighter world of frolic, leaving eighteen months of stress and solitude outside. Revel Puck Circus hits all the right notes in creating an evening of joy, escapism and just a sprinkle of fear.
Let me share with you a secret about circus. Warning: spoilers! All circus shows come with more or less the same structure. They’re a series of individual acts, strung together. Different companies make a greater or lesser effort to hide the seams. The acts are one person or two or sometimes more. By far the most common is the singleton act, for the simple reason that practising a routine alone is more convenient than doing so with even one other person. It’s like the Olympics, where the challenge is to take a discipline and do something special and new with it, within the constraints of the event. Some performers might have trained in a couple, but it’s not like they were a juggler last show, a trapeze artist this one, and how about a human cannonball next time?
But putting the performance together requires working as a troupe, weaving a whole from the constituent parts, using interaction, story, music, costumes, staging and camaraderie. It’s in this that Revel Puck excels. The warmth among them, and between them, was infectious. In an enclosed, in-the-round venue there’s no hiding the moments where they egg each other on, or laugh at one another’s jokes. And crucially – and in contrast to some of the big-name contemporary circuses – it’s clear they’re having as much fun performing as we are watching.
This isn’t to say that the acts themselves don’t match up to the interstitials. The show, The Wing Scuffle Spectacular, is billed as a celebration of fear. As we emerge from lockdowns, we’re all having to face down our own concerns, and here they dance with the dangers inherent in circus. The cast dodges swinging chainsaws (to a backdrop of screams from the crowd). Annie Zita sails on a cloud swing that brushes her against the canvas above us. Fiona Thornhill spins away in the Cyr wheel (basically a giant metal hula hoop, large enough to do an impression of the Vitruvian man inside), presumably wanting to keep her fingers intact. Throughout, we’re close to the action and the peril.
But this is far from a miserable philosophical moan about the fearful state of the world. Lightness and humour abound, particular in the form of unicycling clown Sam Goodburn and his touching romance with a fearsome lion. We are in confident hands, with tension rising then cut through, laughter brought to a halt by a breathtaking feat.
This raw-and-ready mix is effective. A rola bola (balance board) is larger than any you’re likely to see, teetering on two huge tyres. The act doesn’t seem to be going to plan, but its finale is spectacular. Who’s to say if the mistakes are genuine, or simply good hustle, getting us amped up to cheer when they get it right? And does it matter, if they’re facing their fears?
Perhaps it’s a year and a half without physical theatre, which has been hit particularly hard because of its necessity for intensive, in-person rehearsal, and will be slow to return. Or perhaps it’s the transportation to a magical, makeshift village, lit by strings of lights, conjured up temporarily, purely to delight us. I leave enchanted, heart-lifted.
Perhaps it’s simply that you won’t see another big top circus this year, but I’m convinced you should book now, take a loved-one and/or the kids. Hurry: before it disappears back into the mist.
Review by Ben Ross
Embracing The Revel Puck artistic mission of redefining the circus’s place in culture, The Wing Scuffle Spectacular explores what circus ordinarily tries to hide. After a year of anxious uncertainty, The Revel Pucks believe it is time to celebrate fear, to laugh with it and to revel in it together. Without fear how can we learn or grow as people? Circus is the art form that teeters closest to the brink of danger, yet most companies mask the associated fear in their work. The Wing Scuffle Spectacular is a joyous, absurd flirtation with danger, rejoicing as we confront fear, and laugh in its face.
Cast Sam Goodburn, Imani Vital, Fiona Thornhill, Annie Zita, Seb Parker, Shane Hampden, Emily Lannigan, Poppy Plowman, Luke Hallgarten.
Director Luke Hallgarten
Producer The Revel Puck Circus
Assistant producer Nix Pretlove
Costume design Emily Redcell
Lighting & sound design John Thurston
Technical director Mike Alldred
Rigging design Jacob Hirsch-Holland
Crew Martin Peitro
The Revel Puck Circus comes home to East
London with a brand new show
Leyton Jubilee Park, Seymour Road, London E10 7BL
Thursday 29th July – Sunday 8th August 2021