Cirque Berserk – Festival Theatre

Creative Direction by Julius Green

What’s a circus without a tent, but maintains all the wonderous surprises we would find within? Why a Berserkus of course! That’s precisely what Cirque Berserk aims to achieve with their touring production. An amalgamation of more than thirty circus stunts honed within the big tops of the world and melding them into the stages of the UK, pairing the traditional artform of the ring, with the approach of the stage. Motorcycles, gymnasts, clown antics and even the occasional ‘animal’, they certainly deliver on a circus front, but can you really contain such a large event to a smaller, confined space?

Authentic circus experiences (complete with expensive merchandise), made for theatrical setting, this is the mantra for Cirque Berserk. The best of both worlds, capitalising on the idea of staging this production, attempting to communicate the circus experience, but on occasions, scope suffers. Fundamentally, their staging cannot replicate a ring, no matter the construct or innovation. Now, replication may not be the intention, aiming to present a new form of artistic creativity, but at times, the additional space would limit the feeling of a crowding.

Presenting danger in such proximity with the audience though is a game-changer. Particularly the feats of the daredevil Lucius Team, who silence the neigh sayers with their first act performance, and leave them aghast at their return. Exhilarating and occasionally breathtaking, you only need to listen to the audience around to gain a semblance of the impact these stunts still take. Knife-throwing, human launches and trapeze work command silence before thundering applause follow. Occasionally the sadists out there may not sense a genuine aura of danger, but on the whole, the trickery and stunt work is second to none – these are masters of their respective talents, with the Khadgaa Troupe and the Timbuktu Tumblers claiming the right of death-defying feats and the audiences’ appreciation.

An authentic circus requires a focal point, a driving force for the audience to connect with. Storytelling isn’t an inherent part of Cirque Berkerk’s format, it’s a collection of impressive stunts, rather than a narrative performance. We may not build a personal relationship with The Lucius or Khadgaa Troupes, but boy do we find a charmer with Paulo Dos Santos. The comedic heart of the show, with acrobatic skill rivalling the headliner acts, he embodies berserkus nature. He may have a few loose screws to sign up to these stunts, but there are lashings of performance capabilities and diverse skill.

Santos is a weapon of sorts, a key component of what separates Berserk from others of its ilk, but in places, it isn’t enough. There is no question of merit or skill, but there are concerns on originality for circus fans or regular visitors. Only a spattering of sets feels unique, sometimes for peculiar reasons, such as the large, robotic invader who fails to make an appearance outside of his fireworks display or the swooping owl, a brilliant piece of costume design, but peculiar in placement.

No longer do you need to trek into the wilderness to catch the circus, but perhaps that’s where Cirque Berserk loses the magic. Achieving their goal of theatrical experience, the dimensions of the tent don’t carry over, and remove a smidge of the adventure quality. No question of skillset, nor the solid teamwork present by the company, this paves the way for similar experiences within closed settings, but you may find yourself enjoying the spectacle, but missing the crunch of grass beneath your feet, and the warm aroma of popcorn pervading the air.  

Cirque Berserk runs at The Festival Theatre until Sunday March 15th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cirque-berserk

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