Cirque Berserk returns to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tue 10 to Sun 15 March) for its now annual visit and, as always, the skill of the performers makes the very difficult look at times so easy – but don’t try any of this at home folks.
What is Cirque Berserk then? Perhaps the easiest way to answer that is to clearly define what it is not – despite its name, this is not a horror/punk themed circus with chainsaws and performers doing strange things to their personal body parts. Cirque Berserk is at its heart a very traditional circus using only human performers. Is this circus or theatre though, well obviously a circus tent is the natural home for many of the acts, particularly the aerial ones, and some adaptations have to have been made for a theatre stage. In fact, the programme brochure clearly states “REAL CIRCUS made for theatre”. This is then where my problems start with the show, because I have to ask myself if I am reviewing a circus show, or a theatrical show, and although the circus element is a combination of high risk factors combined with jaw dropping skill, the theatrical presentation needs some polishing in some areas and at times is a little too “cruise ship” or “tourist resort” in its performance style.
To be clear, I like Cirque Berserk a lot, and have reviewed it many times over the years, and that itself is part of the problem too as the show is to a large part the same performances that I have seen year after year. This year though there are some changes to the line-up and in places a much needed move towards a more theatrical story arc to link the various performers together, and this is much needed as there is some serious competition out there for Cirque Berserk in the “theatrical circus” space.
What of our actual circus then? Well, there is a little of everything here with “Timbuktu Tumblers”, Mongolian circus superstars the “Khadgaa Troupe”, aerialist Hulan, contortionist and archer extraordinaire “Elberel”, “Viktor & Yuliya's” truly unique unicycling act, “Duo Garcia's” daredevil stunts high above the stage floor, “Antonio & Connor's” sensational hand balancing act, strongman “The Mighty Khaan”, the knife throwing performance of “Toni & Nikol” plus dancers and aerial artists of the company.
The individual skill levels of all of the above mentioned artists has to be seen to be believed, but I have deliberately left two acts out for mention here (unfair I know to the others), but for special reasons. First the daredevil motorcycle team “The Lucius Team” and their high risk performances at up to 60 miles per hour inside “The Globe of Death”. Over the years I have watched this performance as eventually four riders are in the globe together, but now that has almost unbelievably been added to with a fifth rider. Second on my list, and my first time seeing him perform, is Paulo Dos Santos, 3ft 6 inch Brazilian package of talent that combines not only comedic skills with acrobatic and aerial skills, but the person who now gives Cirque Berserk its much needed touch of emotion and at times pathos.
Cirque Berserk is a family show, and they are happy for you to take photographs (but no flash, I presume for obvious reasons) and video clips for uploading to social media. If you are going to see this show for the first time then prepare to be amazed. If you have seen the show before and know what is coming from some of the performers, you will be reminded once again of how amazed you were first time round and maybe spot something you missed the first time too as some of this action just goes by so fast.
Review by Tom King (c) 2020