Circus shows take over the Fringe
This article is from 2015
As Underbelly gets ready to open its new Circus Hub on the Meadows, we take preview a range of Edinburgh's top big top shows
Edinburgh is known as both a literary hotspot and the place where many household comedians started their careers. But could Scotland’s capital soon be taking the circus to its heart? Here, we take a mnemonic look at many of the acts that are set to secure the Fringe’s status as the greatest show on Earth.
C is for CLOWNS
Some people think clowns are cute, cuddly and fun (like Cam’s Fizbo in Modern Family), while others get a little weirded out by them (thanks largely to It’s Pennywise). When weirded out turns to raw fear, it might even result in coulrophobia (look it up, if you dare). We certainly hope none of these guys instil terror into your hearts, but we can’t deny that there isn’t an edge to them.
‘Big’ Mike Geier (his 6ft 8 height explains the ‘Big’ bit) fronts Puddles Pity Party (Assembly George Square Gardens, 6–31 Aug). Blessed with a voice that should really be gracing the Jazz Festival, Puddles exercises his right to be the sad, slightly menacing clown. His much-viewed version of ‘Royals’ was posted on YouTube a couple of Hallowe’ens ago. That’s sort-of creepy all on its own, isn’t it?
Marc Gassot’s Dark Side of the Mime (Assembly Roxy, 5–30 Aug) certainly takes clowning into sinister places, and if you find yourself getting involved in his show, expect to do some pretty edgy role-playing.
Another guy who you can barely get a peep out of is Tony Gratofski in the guise of The Soundimals Tamer (Institut français d’Ecosse, 14–31 Aug). A part clown (check out the Krusty-like hair), part animal tamer, Tony hilariously blunders his way alongside his curious animals.
I is for INTERNATIONAL
Circuses have always been popular around the world, with China and Russia having globally renowned troupes. The British have always loved a good old Big Top and the French adore their clowns and mimes. Take your pick from these nationalities.
From Canada, we have the hairy chaps from Cirque Alfonse with BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–29 Aug), an examination into Montreal’s circus community at the beginning of the 20th century. Which seemed to involve the men being unable to keep their tops on and the women getting covered in quite a lot of mud.
Italy’s Liberi Di really do give us Something (Gilded Balloon, 5–31 Aug), with a show motto that goes like this: ‘when we fall to the ground we discover just how strong we really are’.
And from Australia comes VELVET (Famous Spiegeltent, 5–30 Aug), a glitzy, glamorous disco and a stunning sexy cabaret. La Clique are co-presenting it which says almost everything you need to know.
R is for REAL LIVES
Some might read flea circuses as a perfect metaphor for the workers being downtrodden under the mighty fist of cruel uber-capitalist management structures. To others, it’s just a flea circus. But in our contemporary age, the ring is perfectly capable of tackling serious issues and looking at real people’s lives.
In the Palestinian Circus School’s B-Orders (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–29 Aug), the Middle East is put under the microscope while T1J’s Les Inouis (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–29 Aug) explores the modern-day slave trade and the migrants forced into such horrors.
C is for CHILDREN
If some of the above sounds just a bit heavy-going, you could always pop over to the many circus-related shows which will satisfy grown-ups while being a little more challenging fare for your kids and teens.
Even the most expert sleight-of-hand magician loves a good old pun. Piff the Magic Dragon (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 4–29 Aug) lives up to that billing. The mock-grumpy Piff (John van der Put) has a delightful pooch sidekick (Mr Piffles) and an array of tricks and patter. At 10.40pm, this 12+ show is a little on the late side, but if you can’t keep your wee ones up late during a festival, when can you?
At the more sociable 1.25pm, aerial theatre company Ockham’s Razor (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–26 Aug) give us a double-bill of their U certificate award-winning shows, Arc and Every Action.
And just to show that they are fully committed to the genre, Underbelly’s Circus Hub is laying on Family Circus Workshops throughout the festival period, run by those good people at Full Cirqle. Before you know it, your eight-year-old will be eating fire at the dinner table. As long as they still have their broccoli, it’s a worthwhile compromise.
Operating Tuesday to Sundays (1–3pm) throughout the Fringe, there are Children’s Circus Workshops being provided by Big Sexy Circus City, a new venture based in Fountainbridge. For just £3, your little ones can learn skills such as juggling, unicycling, acro balance, trapeze, plate spinning and stilts.
U is for UPSIDE DOWN
When all is said and done, some audiences just want to see other humans swinging from great heights, spiralling down lengthy ropes and spinning through the air at virtually inhuman angles. Happily, this lot have no fear.
Gravity-defying acrobatics are meat and drink for the Italian team behind Sonics in Toren (Gilded Balloon, 5–31 Aug) and they also do a natty line in purple costumes, while 360 ALLSTARS (Assembly Hall, 6–31 Aug) explores all forms of rotation via breakdancing, basketball freestyling and Roue Cyr artistry.
Les 7 Doigts de la Main have been dubbed as the group which will convince you it’s time to run away to the circus. Discover just how itchy your feet are after you get into Traces (Assembly Hall, 6–30 Aug).
Turning not just themselves, but the genre upside down are Circa, one of the true masters of this art. Their Close Up (Underbelly, 5–31 Aug) promises an intimate treat as they mingle with the audience to explore the story of just how an acrobat feels. ‘How close do you want to be?’ is the question that kicks it all off.
S is for STORIES
How do you tell a story in a circus performance? Concentrate a bit, and they’re there if you want to find them.
The excellent Czech troupe Cirk La Putyka presents Dolls (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–29 Aug), in which they unveil stories about obsession, joy and loneliness through trapeze, acrobatics and dance. And isn’t that what a modern circus show should be all about?
More loneliness and joy in Tatterdemalion (Assembly Roxy, 5–31 Aug) as a man with a curious suitcase goes in search of a friend. With The Elephant in the Room (Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 7–29 Aug), the fabulous Cirque Le Roux tell us where film noir meets contemporary circus as they deliver the story of a 1930s woman who has slinked away from her wedding party to find a trio of men and the titular beast in a secluded room. What can it all mean?