Thursday, 26 August 2021

REVIEW: Cirque Berserk! at the Garrick Theatre

Cirque Berserk! bills itself as a real circus for the Theatre and invents a new word to describe its acts, “Berserkus” but in reality, its good old-fashioned variety back in the West End in a spectacular slickly produced death-defying and exciting show where the traditional acts from Zippo’s touring Big Top show are cleverly integrated into a fast-moving, wordless, exhilarating demonstration of dangerous-looking acts from around the World.

It is brilliantly staged against a dramatic musical soundtrack that adds to the drama and excitement of the performances and which seems perfectly synced with every twist and turn. The Garrick stage looks small and restrictive especially with the huge Globe of Death for the Lucius Motorbike riders dominating centre stage to close both Acts. Indeed, having seen up to five riders inside one of these Globes before, this version seems a little routine despite the addition of a man with an extinguisher in case anything goes wrong. The noise and smell of the bikes does add to the spectacle, fills the auditorium, and you just have to admire the two and three rider’s bravery as they spin around inside. 

It leaves a narrow forestage space for the various tumbling and flying acts that proceed them, and this adds to the jeopardy for those on stage and in the front few rows as you fear several times that a performer or a large prop mighty spin out of control onto them! The Programme features many acts that are not in the show and an insert sets out the list of 2021 cast but without introductions from the stage it is something of a guessing game as to which act, we are watching. Ebbe and Belguun, Gigi, Sarah Howard and Oyuna all perform in the narrow space but there is only so often you can applaud a person doing the splits in mid-air although all perform without a safety net or wires. Most worrying was watching Polly Witherick’s routine with a very heavy looking Cyr wheel in which she spins around the stage without trapping her own hands and more significantly avoiding rolling off the front of the stage!

The Timbuktu Tumblers (who have featured in several of the larger scale pantomimes in recent years to great effect) demonstrate their strength and agility in a number of well-practised tumbling & balance routines while the Havana Troupe use a teeterboard to catapult a member of the team-high up into the flies and across the stage to be caught on a crash mat. Both are neatly integrated into the rest of the acts providing props, scene changes and acting as on-stage supporters. They with a dance group of five add to the sense of Theatre as if we are dropping in on a travelling show encampment entertainment. Paula dos Santos and Johanner also provide linking comedy as two traditional knock-about clowns with their act adapted for the stage but while they add charm, their segments feel overlong. The highlight being an effective smoke ring blowing section.

There is some juggling with balls and hoops from Aron Zsalek, hand balancing from the Garcia Brothers (reminiscent of the movement on the pommel horse in Olympics) and impressive foot juggling from Briano which demonstrate great skill, balance, and flair. Antonio gives a brief demonstration of balance on the Tower of Chairs. 

The real excitement comes from Toni and Nikol’s jaw-dropping knife-throwing act which is almost too scary to watch as he fires knives and axes at her at a great pace and from Elberel’s spectacular demonstration of firing a bow and arrow using her feet while balanced upside down. Duo Garcia are also daringly impressive dangling from an aerial cradle flown high above the stage in another demonstration of fearless strength and skill. 

The Producer Martin Burton has done a fine job assembling this huge, 30 plus, group of performers, effectively staging it in the confined space and adding a sound and lighting show to enhance the experience. You just have to sit back (you can hardly relax for fear of a mistake) and admire the bravery and skill of the performers risking injury just to entertain us and giving Circus a new lease of life.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Row J, Stalls | Price of Ticket: £59.50

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