It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a theater critic in possession of an excess of Beckett, must be in want of a night at the circus. And here is the Southbank Center, with not one but two stages upon which to view circus acts, all in a vibe of love and free flowing Pimms, and suddenly any sense of existential dread has disappeared in a puff of shimmering fizz floating over the Thames. Ooh, who is it this time? Scotch and Soda, a wonderful combination of steampunk and hill billy, with thumping stand up bass and tubas providing a brilliant illumination for the aerial, balance and gymnastics going on in front of us.
The circus performers had created characters rather than just being, well, there on stage; a sassy, brassy blonde (Chelsea McGuffin); the more ethereal rope artist Kate Munts; and the somewhat terrifying and occasionally naked Mosez (a one man shop for undoing the hipsters beard trend). They concocted little narratives, like two men competing to see who could balance on a higher box; a series of balancing acts taking place on a bicycle (really, it plays out like a story when you watch it): all set to the wonderful music of the Crusty Suitcase Band. My favorite of all was a piece that McGuffin did in a collapsible cage with two parakeets, who clearly loved her to bits; it was beautiful, delicate and heartbreaking, an act filled to overflowing with trust yet still heavily overlaid with the sense of the ephemeral condition of our existence. She is in a cage and they are in a cage and yet we yearn to be free – while also yearning for safety, which keeps us in the cage. It was like holding a soap bubble in your hand.
Of course, the overall tone of the show was jolly, and (as usual) it’s hard to capture a circus in words; but if you’re looking for a positive, cheery night out with some good tunes to boot, you could hardly do better than spend your evening in the shiny Spiegeltent watching Scotch and Soda do their stuff.
(This review was for the press night, which took place on Thursday, June 4th, 2015. Performances continue through August 2nd but do check the schedule as the occasionally take a day, or even a week, off.)