Who hasn’t, at one time or another, (if only briefly) thought about ‘running away with the circus’? The idea of a traveling life on the road, performing, to rapturous applause, some daring act of skill and wonder. All the razzmatazz and theatre of it all! James Richardson from Angel Heart Puppet Theatre certainly has and he has written a piece about his inspiration for his new Chrildren’s Theatre show; Cirkus Spectakular.
It might seem incredibly tempting and glamarous to forget about all your worries by running away with a circus but, of course, the reality, with its thrills and spills, is also a lot of hard work and slow ‘dead’ times between the performance ‘highs’. I have been to see a mid-sized family-run circus in South Sweden over the last six summers. I have taken my son, Leo, since he was two and it has become a fixture of our holidays out there. There are old regulars (Madame Minska in our new show is partly inspired by the lady with her performing troupe of beloved dogs, from pekinese to collies). But there are the ‘visiting’ acts ‘hired’ for that season, touring with the circus, but hailing from all over Europe.
What strikes me is the sense of utter dedication to what is often a hard-won skill, honed to perfection. Often, in the competitive market for offering something that has a huge WOW-factor to a rather jaded, computer-gaming audience the acts become more and more daring, demanding and extremely specialist. I saw an act from England out there. For their finale the man was roller-skating at dizzying speed round a circular platform less than two metres across. Flying out at right angles to him, attached only by a double neck halter was his glamorous assistant. With both their arms outstretched they went round and round at such a speed as to keep her ‘flying’ horizontal to him. The look of intense concentration and utter exertion on his face (not to mention his neck) was incredible and they certainly got their rapturous applause!
The other thing that I am amazed at on my visits is how (most likely out of financial necessity) everyone shares a collective responsibility for the running of the circus. The same lady who has the dogs and whose husband used to be the Ring Master, until he passed it on to their son (who himself performs with horses, camels and llamas) is to be found before the show selling the tickets at the gate. Everyone has multiple roles and the backstage crew, a bunch of amusingly gruff-looking chaps from Eastern Europe (who themselves double-up as ushers and sweetie-sellers!) are to be seen, even as everyone is leaving already de-rigging the marquee. All that work, in arriving and setting everything up, just for the one performance! Soon to head off into the night and on to the next venue to repeat it all again, to hopefully more than a half-empty marquee.
Luckily, Angel Heart has had a fantastic and large team working behind the scenes to put Cirkus Spectakular on the road. I have spent many hours carving the heads and hands of all the puppets, as well as making their bodies and the many props for the show. For Jarmila, the fire-breathing Amazonian, extra work was required to overcome the difficulties in her being able to literally breath fire AND also swallow a sword! Zany and hilarious, yet tender and touching this is a show for all the family to share. We hope to see you there!
See all the wonderful puppets come to life and perform incredible tricks in Cirkus Spectakular which comes to Farnham Maltings on Saturday 18 April at 2.30pm