Circa's artistic director Yaron Lifschitz talks about writing for a new audience in Wolfgang, inspired by the 18th century maestro himself
Two days after Yaron Lifschitz took his 16-year-old son to see Wolfgang, he knew the show he'd just created had done its job. As artistic director of Circa, one of the world's most acclaimed circus companies, Lifschitz has had no shortage of positive reviews over the years, for shows such as Humans, Beyond and Close Up. But this particular bit of feedback really put a smile on his face.
'My son started humming something and said to me "what's this?",' recalls Lifschitz. 'I said "that's Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart", which he'd heard in the show a couple of days earlier. And that, coming from a 16-year-old boy who loves computer games, is one of the amazing things about Wolfgang. You watch kids beaming and having a great time while they're watching it – and it's all to the soundtrack of Mozart.'
For many sitting in the audience, 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may well be an unknown quantity – but Circa's new family-friendly show will change all that. Unlike the company's usual output, Wolfgang weaves a narrative through the skilful acrobatic twists and turns.
credit: Dylan Evans 'It's the story of a woman who arrives home for a birthday party that nobody else has come to,' explains Lifschitz. 'So she puts on a record by Mozart, and is taken on a magical mystery tour by a strange, Mozart-like figure. And then, after she's been spat back out into her room, Mozart and his trusty side-kick burst into her world and they all stage a concert together – which goes kind of wrong, but magnificently right as well.'
Each Circa show highlights different skills, creates a different atmosphere and provokes a different emotional response – but a unique, recognisable thread runs through them all. When it comes to creating a show specifically for children and families, however, what does Lifschitz do differently?
'As little as possible is the short answer,' he says. 'Because we want to make a show that's authentic and honest rather than kidsy – that's not our approach. I think what we do is remove unnecessary layers of irony and complexity – and make sure that we're communicating what we want to communicate as strongly as possible.
'Wolfgang is a very different kind of show from our usual work – it's not abstract acrobatics set to music with a kind of emotional overlay, it's much more of a theatre piece.'
credit: Dylan Evans If circus is becoming an increasingly flooded market at the Edinburgh Fringe, then children's shows are even more ubiquitous. So bringing a show that combines both might be perceived as risky – but it's a risk Lifschitz is keen to take.
'We could have brought Humans back, which sold out last year, and Peep Show is running in London at the moment so it would have been easy for us to bring that,' he says. 'But I wanted to bring something that is distinctly different, and speaks to audiences in a different way. Wolfgang has a really different set of skills – solo bike, tower of chairs, very detailed choreographic acrobatics and some beautiful work en pointe. There are moments of kooky surrealism, as well as broad comedy.'
As always with Circa, Lifschitz aims to do more than simply wow the audience with impressive skills (although that's there, too) – for him it's about the potential for circus to create meaningful experiences. And as he says: 'Meaningful can be "I had a great time" or "my life was changed" – or coming out of the theatre humming Eine kleine Nachtmusik.'
Underbelly and Circa Straight from the score and onto the stage, the man known as Mozart appears amidst a puff of powder, wigged and ready to throw musical madness into a crescendo of dives, swoops and twirls. Featuring mischievous acrobats and musicians, Wolfgang reinvents the composer's magical music with circus twists.