Friday, 17 December 2021

REVIEW: Circus 1903 at the Southbank Centre

This Christmas all-around the country families are being entertained by traditional pantomimes but if you are looking for something different but equally entertaining the Circus 1903 at the Southbank Centre is a real winner. You soon run out of superlatives to describe the line-up of amazing acts weaved into a wonderfully well-presented show. It makes the hard-working circuses you see in your local park each year seem very ordinary as they have assembled some of the most spectacular breath-taking acts from around the world that will astound you with their skill, agility, and bravery. 

The whole show is narrated and linked by the comedy magician David Williamson as the Ringmaster Willie. He is a consummate professional, with a bewitching charm and good line in banter. When he introduces Rocky the raccoon for his routine with four young children from the audience, I realised that I had first seen him thirty years ago when he appeared on the Thames TV show (just before it lost its broadcast franchise) The Magic Comedy Strip and I had been selected from the audience to appear in some close-up magic with him. He retains the boyish charm today as he engages with the young assistants from the audience. At a time when the pantomimes have nervously dropped kids on stage for the song sheet, this show carries on involving them with hand sanitiser and masks and it feels refreshingly normal and wonderful to see them on stage. Williamson tells one young boy to “Dare to Dream” and it feels an inspiring moment although I am not sure I’d feel content if my children dreamed of doing some of the daring acts we saw in the show! Each delivered at least one jaw-dropping moment of spectacle.

First up are The Daring Desafios, an acrobatic four from Brazil, who use a teeterboard to perform some amazing flying leaps and tumbles as they spring each other in turn high into the Theatre flies in balletic leaps and spins. They are followed by the Sensational Sozonov who takes Rola Bola to a new level with his balancing on moving cylinders precariously piled on top of each other and ends with an astonishing 360-degree turn which must require tremendous control and balance. The rest of the cast watch and build expectation and drama as the action continues.

Next up is Florian from Germany, the Cycling Cyclone who demonstrates brilliant artistry and control on a specially designed bike that works as a unicycle as well as a bicycle. It is like watching a choreographed ballet as he moves in a circle around the stage in a gentle demonstration of his skills culminating in an amazing sequence doing a headstand on the handlebars! This is followed by a slightly bizarre comedy sideshow presentation reflecting the historical touring shows that collected a group of people to display to the public.

Natalia from Russia takes Hula Hoops to a different level performing her act while balanced on a rolling ball and concludes with a one-legged balance spinning seven hoops before catching and spinning multiple hoops for a wonderful finish. The Flying Fredonis from Ukraine follow on the aerial silks in a beautiful romantic elegant demonstration of strength and daring as they rise up twenty feet in the air to perform their holds and spins. They must rely on someone offstage to get the timing of the rises and falls of the silks perfectly right to confidently deliver this wonderful act.

Act 1 ends with the arrival of Queenie and Peanut the two stunning puppet elephants. The Mother is staged with three puppeteers and a handler and the baby one puppeteer and a handler. They move realistically and bring the characters to life. Though using the same techniques as the RSC in the Magicians Elephant, they seem so much more real and impressive.

Act 2 opens with The Incredibles on the Russian Cradle from which Olavo flings Denise into the air to then catch her. It was a fearless demonstration accompanied by dramatic music and even though they occasionally miss the catch, it simply adds to the excitement and danger. They are followed by The Perilous Perigos using the Russian bar to bounce one of the troupe very high into the air before catching him as he lands back on the bar. It looked like back-breaking work and is performed with great balance and agility.

The Great Gaston from Mexico is one of the fastest juggler’s I have ever seen as he spins five clubs and although his “world record” attempt at seven ping pong balls from his mouth was less compelling, his spinning 5 hats like boomerangs were fast and furious. The Rolling Raspinis impressed as they spun connected by a neck cord before the astonishing Magnificent Marvellous from Columbia took our breath away with the extremely dangerous looking Wheel of Death as they spun and walked the outside of the cages often jumping in the air at the top of the spin!

Every act is billed with a superlative, but each exceeds the anticipation with their speed, agility, grace and daring. This wonderfully presented show has a fine balance between comedy magic and astonishing feats of acrobatics and as the world cowers in fear of Covid, this is one show that says take a risk and get the most out of life, its time to be brave and return to having fun. And the South Bank with its spacious foyers, good legroom and car parks nearby feels a safe place to start.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row L | Price of Ticket: £65

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