Sometimes, there’s nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned entertainment. After three seasons at London’s West End, Cirque Berserk! has finally arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it’s bonkers. Completely mad. A cacophony of axe throwing, fire breathing, jaw-dropping stunts, and acrobatics celebrating the 250 year anniversary of the invention of circus.
Over thirty performers from ten countries guide the audience through a smorgasbord of tricks and stunts. Gymnasts jump and fasten onto each other creating complex formations while women climb up ropes into the sky. At one point, one gymnast manages to pull off a very realistic interpretation of walking on air as if she climbs up an invisible staircase. Another female gymnast manages to twirl an object on each leg while simultaneously juggling. She then proceeds to juggle something even bigger and crazier using only her feet.
Two performers carry out a dagger and axe throwing routine, where a lady is strapped to a board and a gentleman throws everything sharp at her rotating body. Though this was dangerous, it was perhaps not dangerous enough as the gentleman stood very close to the rotating board. Thus, the audience gave a mellowed reaction.
The diversity of the cast is highlighted in sequences such as a routine involving rope being spun and hit hard against a wooden platform, mimicking the aggressive stamps involved in a Flamenco dance. This, for me, ranked as one of my favourite sequences of the production as it combines circus theatre with a traditional cultural dance, thereby creating something different.
Dianne Kelly has to be commended for her fabulous costume design that is a cross between a Tim Burton film and an Oliver Twist adaptation; the tattered trench coats of chimney sweepers mingle with Gothic gods such as a giant bird and even a Transformers-esque robot that prowled the stage to the delight of the kids in the audience.
The show’s greatest asset is a variation of the motorcycle wall of death, this one designed as a sphere where motorcycles speed in figures of eight. The agility, balance, and power required for the stunt makes it really difficult to watch, as there is a significant chance of death that leaves the audience breathless. The only criticism you could possibly give the stunt is that it is so good that all of the show’s other segments and tricks pale in comparison. It is a fatal mistake to use the Wall Of Death for the first time halfway through the show rather than save its stunts until the end, as every other trick following the stunt seemed pretty mediocre in comparison.
There were a few segments, however, that don’t work. A supposedly sweet and lovable mime act duo feel a little sour after the first two minutes of their time on stage. Designed to appeal to the youngest in the audience, their slapstick comedy appears to try to be funny, yet ends up dragging. Extended sequences with a table and a ladder, where the two fellows repeatedly slap each other and do pratfalls, is tedious. Though you admire the commitment of both performers, you find yourself eager to get back to the gymnasts, aerial acrobatics and motorcycle spheres.
However, despite this blip, Cirque Berserk! is a stunning, courageous display of physical agility that includes some real live death-defying stunts. You may have to watch some stunts between your fingers.
Venue 150. Pleasance at EICC – Lennox Theatre
11-26 August (not 22)
Photo Credit: Piet-Hein Out