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

Balletboyz Deluxe – Festival Theatre

Bradley 4:18 Choreography by Maxine Doyle

Ripples Choreography by Xie Xin

Returning to Edinburgh after a successful run at the Festival Fringe, BalletBoyz performs their current Deluxe tour, which sees two productions back-to-back. Aiming to demonstrate the all-male troupe’s ability, Deluxe introduces audiences to two different shows from considerably esteemed choreographers. 

Sacrificing their traditional essence of grace, with an image more connecting with that of masculinity, BalletBoyz loses an integral part of their charm with Maxine Doyle’s production Bradley 4:18. Risks are vital, they maintain freshness, and the intent of injecting headbanging, blood-infused brawl of aggression, mayhem and mischief doesn’t fall foul on all fronts, it’s divisive for the audience. Some will feel confusion, others intrigue, but suspicions rise many more will find disappointment. 

Bradley 4:18 is distractingly literal, too physical to feel like authentic movement, instead conjuring the image of rehearsal. The choreography is less dance, more drunk West Side Story. Set in the early hours of the morning, the troupe perform the various situations one can find themselves within, the fights, the stumbles home and the ravenous hunger. It’s all coding, in a performance which seems to be relying on allegorical symbolism for the distinction some have between masculine traits and ballet. The issue is that the piece isn’t as technically capable as they desire, nor is it as rough footed as they want to communicate. 

There couldn’t be a more significant difference between Bradley 4:18 and BalletBoyz’ following piece Ripple. Where the layout of the previous piece had an obvious structure, which grinds against the technique of the dance, Ripple presents parable, tying suggestion to the movement, incorporating storytelling into the emotion. Xie Xin showcases the exceptional ability of the group, hypnotically capturing the fluidity of change through her gorgeous choreography. In the opening short film, she discusses the struggles of dealing with a troupe of male dancers, feeling that the energy levels of a mixture would result in a better dynamic, how the boys prove her wrong. 

Casting their forms into whirlpools, gentle bends of the river and dribbles of sudden, soothing flow – Ripple is a tremendous showcase. Capturing the essence of a base element is a signature profile of choreographed movement; with fire and air being relatively straight forward. Water has a distinction in its state, it’s shifting patterns, and Xin conveys this transformative property into the boys – who in turn, alter their being accordingly to morph into the shapeless mass of water. 

Technically, there is little to fault the BalletBoyz for, indeed their strength and talent are evident in the lifts, twists and peak ability on display. Where they falter, is the communicative ambition of the first piece, which misses the mark on what we associate with the company yet fails to offer a unique diversity to explain this distancing. Ripple, however, is nearly worth the ticket alone with its sensational depth of skill, and expertise to marry raw masculinity with elegance in a touching manner.

For touring information, please visit BalletBoyz at: https://www.balletboyz.com/whatson

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Festival Theatre

Written by Dan Gillespie Sells & Tom Macrae

From the Original Idea by Jonathan Butterall

Directed by Matt Ryan

Billing itself as a musical for today, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie lives up to its proclamations, centring its narrative on an authentic bedrock of diversity, inclusivity and fabulousness. And yet, while this certainly is the future of musical theatre, there’s something vintage about the production. Hints of Priscilla, gleams of Billy Elliot and of course, all the razzamatazz of the drink stained, nicotine rich bars of Soho – it’s a comforting production, which burns as a fresh creation but welcomes like an old friend. 

Drag is an old friend, and for some of these queens – a very old one. A consumption culture of binge streaming, rising alongside a broad openness means that while there may not necessarily be an additional drag, there is certainly a more visual culture and accessibility for mainstream audiences. Inspired by the life of Jamie Campbell, who was denied a place at prom after voicing the intention of wearing a dress. With music from Dan Gillespie Sells and lyrics courtesy of Tom MacRae, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tackles the musical theatre behemoth with the story of little lad who wants to wear big heels. It’s a heartfelt progressive production, which vitally is fun, engaging and has staying power with its composition.

So, to start with – Layton Williams is magnanimously talented, natural and a killer in those heels. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will not work without a focal point, a Jamie, a Mimi Me, and focus nabbing is Williams’ gift. Tight choreography, with an impressive vocal range, Williams’ strength lies is with his ability to merge these talents into a bundle of energy, while also delivering a solid acting performance. This is a role which could easily be hammy, foolish or too extravagant and Williams is certainly capturing the extravaganza of the role but makes it inherently human. 

What helps strengthen this authentic performance, is the chemistry Layton shares with two stellar women; Shobna Gulati and Amy Ellen Richardson, who play Ray and Jamie’s mother Margaret. As Gulati provides comedic relief, a fun-loving free spirit, it is Ellen Richardson’s nuances which bridge into the audience, particularly the parents. To have the genuine reactions, to support Jamie’s decisions, to proactively adore her son for who he is, but still demonstrate that even the most liberal, supportive loved ones can have a limit to their acceptance, is a brave, honest take. Her vocals propel He’s My Boy into the pantheon of ballads which dominate musical theatre, a timeless song in the making. There is, of course, one more leading lady who has pride of place in the spotlight.

Now, being frank, Shane Ritchie makes a far superior Hugo than he does Loco Chanelle, and this is evidently down to Ritchie’s lack of experience in physical drag. No stranger to the craft, far from it, Ritchie has the character of Loco, but his body doesn’t personify her attitude. The result doesn’t weaken the role or the mentoring effect, but it weights our appreciation towards Hugo, rather than an even footing with Loco. Hugo is engaging, playful, but has a core of iron where required, playing the character spectacularly, he just fails to give as much oomph to Loco. Ritchie’s experience with country vocals means that iconic numbers Over the Top and The Legend of Loco Chanelle offer a unique dynamic to the touring production. 

On top of this, can we just have a moment of appreciation for the delectable stars Garry Lee, JP Mccue and Rhys Taylor who take on the marvellous parts of drag queens Sandra Bollock, Laika virgin and Tray Sophisticay.

It isn’t all friendly, a narrative centring around an openly gay boy’s desire to perform drag, still at high school, invites the antagonism of ignorance. Opting for realism, our adversaries are threefold, though remarkably treated with a fair sense of dignity. Lara Denning’s Miss Hedge, careers advisor and Headmistress at Jamie’s school isn’t an obnoxious villain, she’s a stressed teacher who simply has concerns. Her concerns are voiced tactlessly, and she certainly isn’t winning teaching awards, but Denning carries weight to the part, fleshing out Hedge’s place in the narrative.

Wasted is George Sampson’s bully Dean, who only moves into a third dimension after a crowd-pleasing dressing down by Sharan Phull’s Pritti Pasha, for the most part, misusing his movement talents outside of crowd numbers. Finally, Cameron Johnson is the nameless father of Jamie, also the resident director, his place within Jamie’s story is, well, to not have a place. Fleeting, bigotted and dismissive of Jamie’s brilliance, Johnson’s minimal role speaks volumes of the world’s concerns.

If one actively sits and ponders the production, ripples will highlight an occasional issue, but these are superficial. At the crux of the matter, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is, unsurprisingly, on the lips of the Westend, the world and right here in the heart of Scotland. It’s the progressive future of big-budget theatre, throwing open the doors for any audience and reminding us that you just have to strap on the heels, take the bins out, and be your best self.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs at The Festival theatre until March 7th. Tickets availble from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie

Photos by Johan Perrson