Vague de Cirque
Herald Theatre, Auckland | April 8-12
I always forget how much of a joy the circus is until it starts.
So much more so than when I see theatre, I am in awe of the performers’ skills and commitment. It’s not only the danger of what they’re doing; it’s the visceral exhilaration in seeing performers push their bodies and physics to the limit, and the joy they take in doing it. There’s a special connection between a circus performer and the audience: a shared joy, the audience for watching incredible physical feats, and the performer for performing them.
There’s already that inherent joy in Carousel and Clothesline, but the show layers a genuinely delightful conceit on top of it. It has travelled across the world from Montreal and has picked up awards at the Dunedin Fringe Festival (Best of Fringe). Encountering it in Auckland, after it has surely been performed dozen of times, it feels as fresh as we’re watching it for the first time.
Carousel and Clothesline has a loose narrative in that it has a host, the excellent clown Philippe Thibaudeau, who is MCing the show in between, or sometimes during, the performers’ acts. His clown gives the show a uniqueness, if not another layer of fun. It’s not like we’re watching a group of admittedly talented performers do routine after routine with little cohesion; we’re instead watching these talented performers put on a show.
It’s hard to talk about the acts in anything other than rapturous terms. These are world-class performers whose commitment to their craft is nothing short of astonishing and awe-inspiring. The acts are flawless and the crowd response is tremendous. Whether is it their acrobatic feats, their reality-bending flexibility, or their apparently limitless strength, they get applause and heartily deserve it.
But what makes this special, and especially joyous, is how fun the show is. The performers are all playing a character, or at the very least a type. Whether it’s Jonathan Richman’s sweet-faced juggler or Emmaline Piatt’s delightfully cheeky high heel-wearing lady, we are watching a group of performers not only pull off tricks but play characters while doing this.
The show itself has a cheesy charm to it. Whether it’s a Saturday Night Fever inspired piece, which should be dated in 2014 but is somehow instantly appealing, or a genuinely emotional trapeze act, the audience is never lost. Thibaudeau’s clown is a character who in lesser hands could be annoying or irritating, but he is such a consummate performer that we’re in on that joke and his commitment to the character’s showmanship is utterly endearing.
You’re never going to be disappointed with a circus show. It’s pure and utter spectacle, and when combined with theatre—and this is definitely what I would call theatre—it becomes something special. Some shows move me to tears, some make me laugh until I shake, but few shows utterly captivate me like this. Go see it.