Skilled performers shine within a creative plotline in the international production Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus. Unique features and humanity bring a taste of old time excitement but with the professional polish of 2016. There is a universal theme, variety of performances, original soundtrack, and a sense of delight and awe.
Competition is fierce for the multigenerational theatre experience. More bums on seats = more money. But six-year-olds yawn at Shakespeare, and Paw Patrol best thrills those who think all screens are swipeable. Solution? Circus! Even the hard-to-please can’t help but hold their breath as extreme feats and dazzling dare could in a split second be an OMG moment.
So what makes Circus 1903 different to similar modern circus productions such as from Cirque du Soleil? Firstly, the improvisation and personalisation by ringleader and magician Willy Whipsnade (David Williams). He manages to improvise the script and play to audience delights. Secondly, Circus 1903 embraces the circus as a community, whereby even walking in the lobby and waiting for the acts to appear heightens the anticipation. OK, so there are no bearded ladies feeding caged lions on the way to the loos, but it’s more than the usual theatre experience. Yes, the acts are what you’d expect of a circus: tightrope walking, acrobatics, knife throwing, juggling, balancing. Even though this is familiar, the enthusiasm of the performers enliven the vibe. The minor mishaps are perhaps intentional to give a dash of humanity to these super-humans.
And then there’s the wow factor of the life-size puppets. Design and skill combine to make the elephants by Significant Object come alive on stage. The effect of practiced movement in the jaunty strut of calf Peanut by the puppeteer match the lifelike flutter of the ears of mama elephant Queenie.
The show begins with the excitement of an early 1900s circus group setting up the Big Top, then follows on into the second Act with the show within a show. Throughout are the stars: individuals, duos and even a family. Each act escalates in excellence: juggling gets faster, danger elevates, and flips go higher. There is even the thrill of the new such as artistic cycling, with European Champion Florian Blümmel expertly weaving around the stage on a simple bicycle.
Highlights include the quasi clown act Duo Flash Yevgeniy Dashkivskyy and Yefrem Bitkine. Even though they mostly ‘just’ tumble, they have charisma and spark – and that’s harder than it looks! Costume Designer Angela Aaron’s costumes have dazzle and seem authentic for the era, as do the set details by scenic artist Todd Ivins.
Music is too loud at times, but the score by composer Evan Jolly suits each act. From the piano elegance and grace of aerialist Elena Gatilova as Lucky Moon to the upbeat frenzy of the tightrope team Johan and Jonatan Lopez and Mariaiose Pontigo from Mexico.
A lot of money, time and effort is invested Circus 1903, and it pays off. There is enough originality and character to earn the ‘gonna only see one circus this year – this is it’. The show premieres in Canberra before travelling around Australia then around the world.
Canberra Theatre Centre and The Works Entertainment Group present
Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus
Venue: Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 1 – 10 Dec 2016
Tickets: $99 – $39
Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au | (02) 6275 2700
Sydney Opera House
18 – 29 December 2016
3 – 12 January 2017