Sunday, December 4, 2016


CIRCUS 1903. 

Director and Co-Creative Producer. Neil Dorward. Executive and Creative Producer. Simon  Painter. Executive Producers. Tim Lawson and Andrew Spencer. Puppets designed by Tracy Walter and Mervyn Miller for Significant Object. Puppetry Director. Mervyn Millar. Scenic Design. Todd Edward Ivins. Costume Designer. Angela Aarons. Lighting Designer. Paul Smith. Composer. Evan Jolly. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. December 1-11. 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The Flying Finns. Giovanni Maldonado, AJ Saltamacchia
Petter Linsky  Photo: David James McCarthy

Breathtaking! Astounding! Unbelievable! Magical ! Hilarious and Heartwarming! And still the superlatives come. CIRCUS 1903  is a once in a lifetime treat. MC Extraordinaire Willy Whipsnade (David Williams) says just before the appearance of Queen of Elegance, Aerialist Lucky Moon (Elena Gatilova), “When you take away the razzle dazzle and the ballyhoo, you are left with the most extraordinary talent.  Producers Tim Lawson and Andrew Spencer have assembled a phenomenal cast of superbly skilled circus artists to entertain, thrill and delight. You gasp at the split-second timing of the acrobatic Flying Finns as they catapult each other into the air from the see-saw springboard. You bite your nails at the knife throwing danger of The Perilous Perigo. You gaze in wonder at the exquisite grace of aerialist Lucky Moon, wince at the bone stretching twists and turns of the Elastic Dislocationist,  hold your breath in anxious anticipation as the Sensational Sozonov balances during a 360 degree rotation on the Rola Bola; fixate your stare in disbelief at the miraculous juggling antics of The Great Gaston (Francois Borie) or marvel at the dexterity and balance of Los Lopez, the high wire family of performers from Mexico. Every act in this show, so ably introduced by Willy Whipsnade, is a tour de force of the art of circus with its gymnastics, balancing, contorts, and a host of  acts rom the bygone era of circus that fill an audience with awe and wonder. As a finale to Act 1, an enormous puppet elephant makes its way onto the stage, accompanied by the playful, unpredictable Peanut, a cute and adorable baby elephant with a yen for mischief.
 David Williamson as Willy Whipsnade the MC
Photo. David James McCarthy

I sit there blown away by spectacle, transported by Evan Jolly’s stirring composition, erupting in laughter at Whipsnade’s brilliant handling of the volunteer children from the audience, who willingly take part in his simple magic and fun-filled comedy. W,C. Fields’ advice never to act with children or animals is given short shrift in this parade of unbelievable feats of strength and agility and excellent handling of elephants and kids.
Luke Chadwick Jones in the Elephant. David Williamson
as Willy Whipsnade and a child volunteer
Photo: Davtd James McCarthy
From the very rousing orchestral sounds of the Great Prague Symphony Orchestra, the music transports us from the pounding rhythms of the percussion accompaniment to the Roustabout clang of construction to the gentle balletic accompaniment of Sarti or the stirring jubilation of the corrida. Evan Jolly’s composition is the very life force of this circus, recalling the glories of the circus of 1903, reflected in the costume, the hysterical sideshow and eventually the grand presentation of the ring circus. Every act in this show is a brilliantly cut diamond. Rare mishap is turned to triumphant conquest. Timing is precise, honed and executed to perfection, applauded uproariously by an audience hungry for more. Artists posture with exuberant exultation at their success, almost against all odds and inviting with pride the adulation of their audience. 

CIRCUS 1903 recalls the great circuses of yesteryear. A flag-waving finale is the parade of the workers, united in their devotion to their art. It is the circus of Eastern Europe, the Russians, the Sl;avs, the Balkans and the  borderlands between East and  West. Performers from all over the world pay homage to those early years of dedication to the rigourous demands of their art. In 2016, we may remark on the decorative role of the women in the knife throwing, or the tightrope routine and a tradition that appeared to be more the province of the strong and resilient male, while the woman stood by in presentational pose. It is 1903, and the female artists amazed with their balletic grace, their gymnastic dexterity and their aesthetic appeal. A contemporary feminist view of an old tradition? Perhaps, but  one is still left to wonder at the female artist, Mariaiose Pontigo of Los Lopez, performing the splits on a plank between two bikes balanced on the highwire or Anny Laplante spinning blindfolded into Andrei Kalesnikau’s waiting hands or Elena Gatilova’s sheer strength while working on the aerial ring.
Los Lopez:.  Johan and Jonatan Lopez and  Mariaiose Pontigo
Photo David James McCarthy
 And finally my favourite, because every circus must have a favourite act. Here it is so hard to choose, but I reel at the amazing skill of Le Jongleur extraordinaire, the Great Gaston (Francois Borie), for whom every baton is a whirling , twirling, flying  reflection of unbelievable focus, control and lightning speed reflex.  You may have seen circuses before and amazing feats of strength, magic and physical agility, but you have never seen the wonders that await during an unforgettable journey back in time to Circus 1903.

Photos by David James McCarthy for the Canberra Theatre Centre

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