Category Archives: Circus

Britten’s Death in Venice – A Review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The WNO’s production of Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten is a symphony in black and white with minimal staging, effective choreography, and powerful singing. It’s a beautiful and haunting painting that conveys the internal anguish of the protagonist at the core of Britten’s extraordinary music.

Death in Venice is based on the novella by Thomas Mann, where Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous author who travels to Venice to find inspiration. There, he develops an attraction for an adolescent boy, Tadzio. Disciplined and ascetic in character, Aschenbach is torn between his sensual desire and his detached reason. As his attraction becomes an obsession, Venice is taken over by cholera. His passion makes leaving impossible. A glance from Tadzio makes Aschenbach rise from his chair only to collapse and die.  

Aschenbach’s travel to Venice is as internal as it is physical. The initial confusion of the mind that makes him unable to write is lifted at the sight of Tadzio, whom Aschenbach sees as the embodiment of ancient Greek beauty. Yet, the aesthetic appreciation quickly plunges Aschenbach into an internal conflict between his rational mind and his passion for the boy.

Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Olivia Fuchs, who directs this production, weaves together the different elements of music, video, acrobatics, costumes, and song with great efficacy. A black and white video is projected onto the background. It alternates depictions of the sea, at times choppy and at times smooth, Venice almost as a shadow, and Tadzio up close. The most intense moment is when Aschenbach, played by a wonderful Mark Le Brocq, is alone and the scene has nothing but a picture of Tadzio. Throughout the opera, Le Brocq excels in intensity and harrowing beauty. 

Alexander Chance as The Voice of Apollo, Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach, and Roderick Williams as The Voice of Dionysus. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Aschenbach’s internal anguish mirrors the Nietzschean theme of the conflict between Apollo, god of reason, and Dionysus, god of passion. The battle between Apollo and Dionysus unfolds musically in the contrast between the countertenor voice of Alexander Chance as Apollo and the deep baritone voice of Roderick Williams as Dionusus. This is heightened by the juxtaposition of Apollo, dressed in a golden suit, and Dionysus, in a red suit, against the black and white background of the chorus, dressed in white when playing the hotel guests, and in black as Venetians. 

Baritone Roderick Williams and countertenor Alexander Chance are equally enthralling. Tadzio has no voice; rather he embodies beauty through movement to a percussion music which Britten developed drawing on Balinese gamelan. The choice of sensual acrobatics performed beautifully by Anthony César of NoFit State Circus, directed by Firenza Guidi, conveys powerfully the Greek idea of beauty. The homoerotic acrobatic duel between Tadzio and another boy, performed by Riccardo Frederico Saggese, is allusive yet restrained. The result is mesmerising. 

On a minor note, the production could have made better use of light design to emphasise Aschenbach’s internal turmoil. Overall, it is one of the best productions the WNO has given us.

Antony César as Tadzio, Riccardo Frederico Saggese as Jaschiu, and the cast of Death in Venice. Photo credit Johann Persson.

Review, Alegría: In A New Light, Cirque du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I wanted to see more of this stalwart of the circus world. I’m amazed by the number of people who turn up to see them. Now, even with Alegría one of Cirque du Soleil’s older shows has been revised and dubbed ‘In a New Light’.

Whilst I remained impressed by the international effort from a range of the circus spectrum, the novelty can wear off quite quickly. The clowns were just that little too childish, the only thing for the adults was a very suggestive cleaning of a gun motif which went on for years. There is universal humor, though the British like things a bit more angular. Flame eaters wowed with their circular fury. Ariel acts dazzled with grace and spirit. The singers belt out the same unrelenting refrain of ALEGRÍA just a little too much, though other songs are sweet and loving. Even the clowns made fun of this when the title song came up on their radio during a clean up of paper snow spread across the promenade and stalls.

Director Franco Dragone, with creative director Gilles Ste-Croix have created a show which would have held more weight back in its day. The costumes by Dominique Lemieux recall the golden era of fashion not quite circus eras but Art-Deco, Gothic and more. Composer René Dupéré wrote an award winning plush score not afraid to get really soupy or even rocky heavy. I realised that the acts are very similar from other shows, I guess it’s just the trappings which change. The athletic prowess  ever wants…it’s the pacing which struggles. A hock story about a crystal king is very slight and the clowns play a role in this, with little of so called plot development.

Most will find lots to love in Alegría: In A New Light. I think i’ll take a break for a while from the all consuming circus spectacle.

Alegría: In A New Light runs at the Royal Albert Hall till 3rd March, then on tour in Spain.

Review: Lucky Pigeons, Brainfools, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Who would have thought that if you combined pigeons and circus, you’d have a brilliant time?

Lucky Pigeons is Brainfools Ed Fringe debut, and what a debut it is. This is a highly interactive, family friendly show. Before any action even takes place, our main “human” character is out in the audience, introducing herself to each member of the audience, interacting with the children and ensuring that they are comfortable with the next hour.

A boy called Oscar becomes an unbeknownst star when he is called upon regularly to come straight onto the stage and help. The grin on this boy’s face is infectious and his excitement to take part is electric. Lucky Pigeons has really provided an opportunity to make a core memory for this kid.

Our main character loses her job and becomes lost on a street where she meets a group of pigeons who magically become human size and teach her the ways of the pigeon life which is… circus. There’s a sense of learning from them and improving of her mood from these simple yet talented figures. Their costumes border human with suit-like outfits but bright feathers and colourful face paint, pigeon style hats and movement like a bird. It is engaging, and fun, cute and adorable.

The tricks are of course impressive, acrobatics from the built staging in front of us, tricks with no support at all and team balancing acts. There are the occasional mistake but these are picked up quickly and moved on with little notice. There is silly comedy and slapstick, which, from the sounds of the children, tickles them and therefore achieves what it sets out to do.

Lucky Pigeons is engaging, fun, comical and ticks all the boxes for a family friendly show. It may be catered for this demographic, but anyone can find it enjoyable and hugely endearing.

Review: Brave Space, Aloft Circus Arts, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is something very powerful about theatre being built around you. Even more so when it’s circus, around, in front and above your head.

Walking into the space, we are faced with only a lonely deflated tent, that we are asked to stand around and watch as it comes alive. We start from the outside until we are welcomed in and under the tent. In front of us, the tent grows and grows and is built before us. There’s a sense of consent – that we are only allowed into this magical world when we are invited.

This reminds me a lot of No Fit State, Bianco, where the staging is ever changing and we see the build before us. However, with Brave Space, we are brought in close to one another, in an intimate and close encounter – the space is safe, the space is brave.

My only criticism with this is that we are such a large audience, that this becomes slightly uncomfortable, with the pressure of the tent on your head if you’re at the back. When we are asked to lie down and watch acrobatics above us, again, it feels compact, little awkward and some couldn’t quite find the space to do this so miss out on the impact. If you’re lucky enough to lie down, it’s magical and a new and relaxed perspective.

The actual circus tricks are of course brilliant and awe-inspiring. There’s the occasional mistake but this is picked up quickly and effortlessly, with very little impact on the smooth transitions.

Brave Space is a tranquil and intimate circus show, bringing us together and creating a new world, built before our eyes.

Review: Oat Milk & Honey, Mo-Ko Piano & Circus, Ed Fringe, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In a small, circular lecture theatre, we are brought an avant-garde expression of anxiety through the forms of dance, circus, music and .. oh a Llama.

From an Australian duo, Oat Milk & Honey quite effectively use their platform to share how anxiety feels, not only for the person experiencing it but also the impact on others.

There is no narration or vocals bar the occasional breath of the moving performer and pre-recorded voice overs but the silence is filled with beautiful, original compositions which occasionally go off-piste to express the interruption anxiety can create.

It feels relatively slow paced and it would have been interesting if there had been a change of pace. There was a little of this, interrupting the seriousness with an element of comedy when a performer comes in dressed as a Llama, reflecting the fact of serotonin created from watching Llama’s run which we hear at the beginning in a voice over.

There’s no doubt that both of these performers have great talent in their own right; a talented composer and musician and a very flexible and powerful dancer, circus performer. And each part of this performance is really interesting to watch but continues at the same pace which loses attention.

Oat Milk & Honey is transcendental and soothing, with a poke of humour but needed some different speed levels to keep the intrigue.

Review Cirque du Soleil, Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, Royal Albert Hall by James Ellis 

Photo Credit: Andy Paradise 

**** (4 / 5 stars)

Perhaps the name to be most associated with the art of circus, Cirque du Soleil needs little introduction. With their meteoric rise in world-wide tours they have become an industry of their own making. Truly something to aspire to.

First seen back in 2014, Kurious – Cabinet of Curiosities is a steam-punk, fever dream showing of many eye-bulging acts. There are way too many names to mention (from 22 different countries) but I was staggered by the energy, the athleticism and the bravado that all offered. I honestly wouldn’t have minded a bit more of a narrative approach, something to be hooked by between screens changes and the like. Through this approachable universality of the whole thing is a crowd pleasing decision often through broad humour, metallic spectacle and outrageous feats. This is also the most props they have ever used for any of their shows: 426 in total. 

Photo Credit: Andy Paradise 

Michel Laprise as writer and director has tapped into a goldmine of ideas here, the unrelenting flux of circus testament to the evening. Some personal favourite acts were Chih-Min Tuan, his intimate and dazzling Yo-Yo skills, something I never expected to see on a show of this scale. The hand puppet work of Theatre of Hands was just wonderful and clever, one of many delights. From Ukraine, Andrii Bondarenko left people flabbergasted with his Upside Down World something which just needs to be seen to be believed. Contortionists astride a giant mechanical hand, shock with their nimbleness and fluidity. Aerial and net play also were delightful with nods to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and other winks. Off note was the singer Sophie Guay, with a gramophone horn in her hair who added an extra depth to the acts and kept up a fine rollicking swing. The band were also a sensation, the celli being visible from the clockwork backstage.


The amazing set and costumes are of the finest quality as well, evoking the surreal, French Canadian vibe of the whole show. Mr Microcosmos played by Mathieu Hubener took on 20 pounds of metal costumes, a protruding belly where Mademoiselle Lili lived. Tackled by Rima Hadchiti, an evocation of circus of the past is here as her inclusion as a dwarf is a well handled and welcoming force and she often left us smiling. The Tomanobv Brothers appeared at first to be conjoined twins but this was a lie, something which leaves a bit of a bad taste today. Though their aerial straps act had us reeling. 

Framing the whole event was Cherecher played by Antonio Moreno, a mad scientist of sorts, lost between dreams and the real world, often floating around in the air. Facundo Giminez had his Invisible Circus (an idea which could have gone either way were it not for the squibs and strings) and a odd scene when he dragged a poor lady on stage and began to throw up a mock hairball as a cat he took the persona of. 

I’d recommend for the spectacle, though those seeking more meaty stories might need to look else where.  

Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities runs at the Royal Albert hall till 5 March 2023.

Review, The Wing Scuffle Spectacular, The Revel Puck Circus, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s been a while since many of us were in a big top, and I for sure missed the element of being in a field, walking into a giant tent and being wowed from start to finish.

The Wing Scuffle Spectacular takes the elements of fear and laughs in the face of it. Along with what we all expect – spectacular stunts, comedy and those ooh and ahh moments, there is also a narrative where the performers face danger but really, there is no real danger. For example, flawless rope acrobatics over broken glass has its illusion shattered (pardon the pun) when the performer stands on them on the end and it isn’t really glass. Despite these illusions being dropped cleverly, we never expect it as they intertwine this will real death defying stunts. There’s a comedy to it when your heart is in your throat and suddenly it is all a farce – Revel Puck are showing us to face our fears and make light of the danger.

Traditional Circus is always in play when we have our resident clown bringing the comedy between each stunt, with his own talented tricks and skills. He has his own narrative – a budding friendship between him and the… Lion! Don’t worry, there’s no real animal here but the development of a stuffed toy that gradually gets bigger throughout the show. From terrorising him, to becoming friends, to a romance, the clown and the Lion made the children and adults alike scream with laughter.

What I love about Circus is that the tricks and stunts tend to be similar or on the same path, but the way they are executed along with the narrative is what really makes it. And this troupe certainly bring their own performance, comedy and personalities which really adds to the general theme.

The only elements that felt awkward and with a need to fill were times when there was no silence or dialogue. It felt, well, a little static – some I could see the reason behind it, to create some tension, but I think with children in the audience still making noise, it lost this atmosphere and felt like we were intruding as they set up or began a trick, or even when they were performing; as if we walked into their warm up or training session.

Overall, I had SUCH a brilliant time at The Revel Puck Circus. It felt light, it felt fun, it felt normal and felt so good to be back seeing Circus performance again. The Wing Scuffle Spectacular has something for all ages, keeping to the tradition of Circus but bringing a youthful and unique take on it.

Review, The Producers (No, Not That One), Pleasance Theatre

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

After 1 year of ups and downs in our industry, I cannot tell you how excited I was about tonight.

The brief period that we returned to Theatre near the end of last year felt like part of me returned but to be shut down again was hard for everyone. Suddenly, we are working our ways back and gosh, doesn’t it feel good.

What better way to celebrate our return than with The Producers (No, Not That One) at the Pleasance Theatre. With all proceeds going to the #TheatreArtistsFund, we were entertained with a cabaret style show full of talent, of fun and of joy while supporting those who have had a really difficult year.

While many, bar a couple of the performers, were new to me, we all laughed, we all felt comfortable and in tune with one another and it felt like a family enjoying a common love. To be back in a fringe venue felt like a homecoming amongst friends.

The Producers was as it says on the tin: A culmination of some of London’s finest Theatre Producers showcasing what else they can do. Often, we are all known in this industry as jack of all trades: giving our hand to a number of different elements (myself included) and often this is from starting with our love of the Theatre, perhaps to be performers and finding that our passion and talent in also in many other elements.

We were treated to wall shaking singing, some hilarious comedy, a circus routine, wonderful piano and a Host full of love and laughter. Every single person was full of talent and showcased that everyone from in the background to the forefront are full of talent and skills.

I could not imagine more of a perfect show to come back to, with our World returning somewhat back to how it was , than to bring some of the backbone of our industry and celebrate their talent as Producers but as performers.

Top Tunes with James Doyle-Roberts, Co-Artistic Director of Citrus Arts

Hi James,  great to meet you, can you tells us about yourself and your work?

Hi there, and thanks for inviting me to do this.

I enjoy telling people that I’m quite a good poster-boy for how the arts can save young people who lack direction and, in my case lacked a stable family background.

I fell in love with Hip Hop & Breakdancing as a young teen, and then in my 20’s I discovered circus and aerial work which became my career for almost 20 years. Both things came along at times when I was heading down negative roads. What they have in common are the life benefits of physical training and a strong DIY cultural ethic of just making things happen before seeking permission.

The soundtrack to my early childhood was new-wave punk, Ska, and the early years of Hip-Hop. Breakdancing and the version of Hip-Hop culture that landed in Wales was my path away from the miserable cultural confusion of the 1980’s.

I’ve been lucky enough to live in Manchester at the height of it’s music scene, in London at a time when arts & culture really mattered, and back in Wales to work with NoFit State Circus when they were really hitting their stride.

I’m now Co-Artistic Director of Citrus Arts, along with the amazing Bridie Doyle-Roberts. Citrus have been making shows that combine Circus, Theatre, Dance, and Design since 2009 and we’re based in the Rhondda Valley. We tour shows around the UK and the last few years have seen us championing the hands-on skills that come with Circus life as a way to bring the people of our community together to create ‘Exceptional Experiences for Everyday People’.

 This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

Music is and always has been, a major force behind my path as an artist.

As performers Bridie & I played in plenty of shows where the music felt like an add-on background texture, that’s why Citrus Arts places an emphasis on picking high quality soundtracks and live musicians for our shows.

Bridie & I have two small children, so it’s hard to find time to immerse ourselves in music. There’ve been dozens of times when the boys fall asleep in the car, so we keep on driving, talking about ideas for shows, playing albums, and making major decisions about Citrus Arts’ future as we keep going until one of them wakes up. It costs us a fortune in Ice Cream when we eventually stop to play in a park, or beach for a while before turning back home.

My go-to sounds at the moment all come from the brilliant Late Night Tales series of compilations. The LNT label invites top-notch musicians & producers to curate a 1-hour musical soundtrack for a ‘movie’ that’s never been filmed. My favourite track I’ve discovered so far is “Henry McCulloch” by David Holmes, BP Fallon, & Andrew Weatherall.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list five records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

The Stranglers – ‘All Live & All of The Night’

My first music festival was Reading in 1987, where I saw The Stranglers headline the Friday night there along with The Cramps, The Pogues, and Iggy Pop over the weekend. This album was partly recorded that night. I still love the sound, image, and artistic message of the punk movement, but was just a young lad with a paper round when it had the real power to shock.

The musicianship in this album still stands out as a moment that shows how punk evolved into the more interesting areas of the charts in the 80’s.

Devo – ‘Q- Are We Not Men?’

I’m still enthralled by how this band made a unique musical, visual, and political style around their image and output. Two brothers in the band made Devo’s pop videos way before the advent of MTV, another member invented the Roland Emulator keyboard/synthesiser, and between them they built a complete and un-improvable artistic world for their music and message.

I love the fact that the lead singer Mark Mothersbraugh now makes music for Marvel super-hero movies.

Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’

I was working at a big record shop (a “Megastore”, according to Mr Branson) in Cardiff when this came out and nobody, and I mean nobody, from the Phil Collins-loving security guards to the guys in the classical music department had anything but huge praise for this album. For me it was a re-connection back to my years of loving early Hip-Hop, Soul, and Jazz influenced music, and represented a way to cross between tribes of taste and friendship groups.

Every single track is excellent, but the decision to choose “Safe From Harm” as the opener was a masterstroke.

Ted Barnes – ‘Underbelly’

It’s hard to find Ted’s wider work on the usual online platforms, but this album is a great example of his style. Citrus Arts’ first touring show was based around Ted’s music and if you listen to this, you’ll hear why we chose it.

Barnes was Beth Orton’s composer when she rode high in the UK album charts in the 2000’s. My favourite story about this music is knowing that Ted’s father was a Toymaker in the seaside town of Whitstable in the post-war years.

This album sounds like a boy sneaking-in to his Dad’s shed where wood was carved, and tiny mechanical things came to life.

DJ Shadow – ‘Private Press’

Another personal tale coming up here, but this is DJ Shadow’s best album.

In 2012 the Hip-Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa donated his personal record collection to NY Columbia University’s Cultural Archive – they were the plates of vinyl that were cut, scratched, and mixed to create Hip-Hop in the yard parties that founded the genre.

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist were allowed to take those actual records on tour as the Renegades of Rhythm performances where they played them as a set, in tribute to one of the founding artists of Hip-Hop.

I saw the show. I listened to those actual grooves on those vinyl plates that inspired me to take a lifelong journey into physical performance, and the way that communities can make their own lasting mark on what I’m sure wasn’t considered ‘art’ at the time.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this? 

I feel like I want my own Radio show after doing this!

If there’s one track I’d like to share with you, rather than remember for personal reasons, it has to be Ted Barnes’ “Sting in The Tale”.

Its lush, gorgeous, beautifully crafted music that everyone should try dancing to.

Thanks for your time James

Review: Cara Vita: A Clown Concerto, Vault Festival By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Clown meets Circus meets Classical Music.

Felicity Hesed has happily and triumphantly summed up this performance in her title. Full of comedy, music, Cara Vita is a great piece of fun for any evening.

Going through the trials and tribulations of a woman’s life, we meet Hesed on her wedding night all the way through family, breaking up and finding herself as a woman and a person again. The story is told with plenty of audience interaction, comical clown moments and up close and personal circus skills, flying high above us with a beautiful live played soundtrack.

Much of the telling of this tale is quite abstract; using sock puppets at one point to describe a break up; using other pieces of clothing to show the growth of children and the changes that come with this, to suddenly becoming invisible to rekindle the love for ones self when she then becomes visible to others on stage once again. The approach is very niche but not unwelcome, but it did seem to fall flat to some who one would assume came for a traditional clowning experience or traditional circus.

The pace of the production was quite similar; slow and steady, with pauses which eventually speeding up near the end for a climax. But it felt that little burst of energy could have kept us intrigued and engaged a little longer.

Cara Vita: A Clown Concerto is bundles of fun, comedy and a lovely narrative, celebrating women. A quicken of pace could have made it that little bit more special.