Head First Acrobats bring a pirate adventure to the Edinburgh Fringe

This article is from 2017

Australian circus troupe Head First Acrobats bring a pirate adventure to the Edinburgh Fringe

Arr We There Yet? is a raucous family show with the kids very much part of the swashbuckling action

Ropes, ladders, rigging, flying cutlasses and derring-do: pirate ships and circuses have a surprising number of things in common. All of which Australian circus troupe Head First Acrobats make the most of in their fabulous family show, Arr We There Yet? But when it came to creating the piece, this swashbuckling gang from Melbourne had a more pressing reason for making the connection.

'We had joked about it for ages,' says Cal Harris aka Snotty Steve, the sailor with a serious sinus problem. 'Then we booked a festival in Melbourne specifically with this show, but wrote the blurb before we'd done anything on it. The show then sold out so we realised we had to make it fit the blurb.'

The trio has just come offstage at the Brighton Fringe, and if their post-show banter seems joyously candid (with no-holds-barred self-deprecation and ego-free descriptions of their creative process), it's a measure of how much their relaxed stage personas are more than just an act. This is Head First's debut show for children (they received much acclaim at last year's Edinburgh Fringe with Elixir) and has taken two years of 'trial and error' development to reach its current incarnation.

Taking place on board the Red Rubber Duckie ship, we meet unhinged pirates Captain Pricklybeard (Thomas Gorham), softly-spoken Captain Joseph (Rowan Thomas) and the aforementioned Harris as Snotty Steve, as they steer a calamitous quest for buried treasure, dodging low-fi ghosts, a cuddly shark and the sneaking ambitions of one another to each seize the title of captain. There are head balances and hand balances, quick-fire tumbling, plank walking, (or rather plank jumping, by way of a see-saw) and a riotous soundtrack of souped-up shanties and rock tunes.

But what makes the show truly special is the effortless way the three draw in the kids for some interaction. Not only are they unfazed by the unpredictable ad-libs children can bring, they positively embrace them. On the afternoon I saw the show, kids were on their feet shrieking at the ship's ghost, eager to take part when volunteers are called for. In a variation on 'What's the Time Mr Wolf?' involving a treasure-hoarding shark, one participant steals the show by mimicking Harris' floor-slide and seizing the treasure himself.

When I bring this up they all flip out. 'That was amazing! I wanted to high-five him,' says Gorham. The group insist that they rarely experience shy, retiring audiences because, from the outset, their priority is to create an atmosphere where children feel welcome to be part of the action.

'We engage them from the very beginning,' says Thomas. 'So from the start it's not like a closed wall with us on stage and they watch. We bring them into it so that all the way through the show they have input; then they feel like they're in a room with their brothers and sisters and can just yell and play.'

Meanwhile, grown-ups are entertained with groanworthy pirate puns and the acrobatic displays. But ultimately, Thomas admits, it's hard to separate what children and adults respond to. 'I think if we can laugh at what we're making then we know that they will as well.'

Arr We There Yet?, Underbelly's Circus Hub, Middle Meadow Walk, 6–26 Aug (not 14, 21), 2pm, £10–£12.50 (£9–£11.50). Preview 5 Aug, £6.50.

Arr We There Yet?

  • 3 stars

Head First Acrobats A rip-roaring and swashbuckling adventure in which three sailors hit the high seas in search of treasure! A scallywag pirate, a muscular sailor and a chef with a seafood allergy make for a hopeless crew, as they fight for the title of captain aboard the ship. These acrobatic pirates turn ship life…