‘Cirque Berserk!’ (Pleasance at EICC, until AUG 28)

“Dos Santos’ is the nitrous oxide in the tank that sends ‘Cirque Berserk!’ into overdrive.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

They say that the second hit of something intoxicating has a far less profound effect than the first. Is this true of ‘Cirque Berserk!’, the single biggest thing to happen to Scotland’s capital since those enlightened types in powdered wigs stopped to wonder what life was all about? I’m not a circus reviewer, I do theatre, which is why I find the concept of a circus show curated to feel like a theatrical event so intriguing. When I saw the show in 2019 (also with Daughter 1.0, who is now 7yrs auld) it blew my tiny mind. After the longest 3 years in recorded history, is the rush of awesome to the head induced by ‘Cirque Berserk!’ still as potent the second time around? Spoiler alert! Most definitely, yes, possibly more so.

The lineup of acts is, as ever, electrically eclectic harmonised by professionalism and dedication to craft that must be seen to be believed. I am especially glad that the Timbuktu Tumblers are looking in such canny fettle in the wake of a global pandemic headlined by a serious respiratory infection. Their energy and skills makes the least use of props and the most use of their own physicality. If any group of performers was going to have been disrupted by COVID it might have been these lads but, of course, they are in superb condition – a testament to clean living and regular exercise which I’ll hear after I’ve got the next round in. Daughter 2.0 (4yrs) chuffing loves these guys. Above the excitement of the crowd, you can hear the cogs in her wee brain calculating that this is what she could achieve if only her Baba would let her climb on, and jump off, the furniture.

The Lucius Team, with their hair-brained, hell-raising stunt of driving motorbikes at speeds of up to 60mph inside The Globe of Death are beyond the power of words to describe. In the skies above our home in Englandshire, you frequently see Spitfires and other members of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flitting about in a manner most serene and picturesque. For the post-war generations, the closest we’ll get to understanding those magnificent men and their comparatively primitive flying machines, the speed, the power, the excitement, the danger, the drama, technical know-how, and the nerves of steel is to watch the Lucius Team doing their thing. You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps.

Elberel, the lady from the bottle, is back although her party piece of firing arrows with her feet is performed this year by Antonio and Connor, the amazing balancing act. They don’t hit the mark with Elberel’s surety, but spinning on your head and balancing on a stack of 5 chairs is more than enough to generate more excited gasps than Colin Firth coming out of a pond in the mid-1990s. Duo Garcia are from Spain and Ireland. I’d love to know how those guys met and how you even start a conversation about hanging by your teeth a mindboggling distance above the stage. Czech knife throwing act, Toni and Nikol, are an auld skool treat on target and on point.

If there’s a single star of the show it’s got to be Paulo Dos Santos, one of the most celebrated circus performers of our time. Combining incredible acrobatic power and grace with a true clown’s gift for connecting to the audience, Dos Santos is the nitrous oxide in the tank that sends ‘Cirque Berserk!’ into overdrive. His comedy partner, Whimmie, comes from a family of circus clowns. His great-great-grandfather performed at Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria who must surely have been amused at least that one time.

In her Fringe notebook, the one with Moana on the cover, Daughter 1.0 wrote: “When I walked in toit there was a big sepher. And there was music. First there was men that made towers with them selves. And there was motor bikes in a Sepher. And a lady in it! the acrobats went so high and were very bendy I could tell they had been practising. They juggled with fire! They also shot bows and aros with there feet there were lots of acrobats. The clowns were so funny one of them went in a balloon. and jumped up and down. I loved every moment of it!”

‘Cirque Berserk!’ loses none of its power to enthral, entertain, and entrance the second time around. In fact, I find myself sitting further back in my seat, settling into the spectacle more easily, sharing the moment with two of my favourite people to share anything with. I feel closer to them in those moments because for 60 minutes I am one of them. Wide-eyed at the wonder of the world and what special people can do given half a chance. I find myself recalling that the Edinburgh International Conference Centre is built on the site of a public house of which my girls’ ancestor was the landlord. I’d love to know what he’d have made of the happening on the site of his gaff a century or so later. I suspect he’d think he’d been over-sampling his own stock because with ‘Cirque Berserk!’ seeing is never quite believing that such impossible things can happen.


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“Cirque Berserk!” (Pleasance at EICC : until AUG 25 : 13:30 18:30 : 60mins)

“There’s more room to manoeuvre in Elberel’s glass bottle, before the Mongolian contortionist has begun to emerge, than there is space left in Cirque Berserk’s running order.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

A duck walks into a bar and asks the barman for a pint of lager tops and a packet of sweet chilli and lemongrass crisps. “You’re a duck!” exclaims the barman, “And you can talk. That’s amazing.” “Yeah,” the duck says looking surprised, “I’ve just started work on the building site round the corner.” “Listen, friend,” muses the barman, “one of my regulars is a circus ringmaster. You need to talk to him. He is bound to have a job for you.” “Ringmaster of a circus,” considers the duck, stroking his bill, “with clowns and acrobats and the flying trapeze all in a big top made of canvas?” “That’s right,” says the bar encouragingly. The duck looks totally lost. “What would he need a plaster for?”

I was taught that one by an auld American EdFringe pal on the day I was formally inducted into the and International Patriarchy of Assorted Punsters, a secretive confraternity of dads dedicated to absolute control of global affairs and the telling of jokes that make you groan. “The trick,” my Yankee proposer assured me, “to telling the ‘duck walks into a pub’ story is to mess with the details. It’s never getting stale if you change the type of drink and the type of crisps to suit the occasion.” From that conversation, I took away a greater appreciation of how the American stand-up and storyteller went about his craft, about how only the truly great masters of their art can work to a formula without ever becoming formulaic.

Julius Green, Cirque Berserk’s Creative Director, as well as Martin Burton, the Founder and Producer, have cooked up a formula that always sells out without ever selling out. Cirque Berserk is an international amalgamation of talent. “A non-stop smorgasbord of more than thirty different circus skills,” according to the programme, featuring performers “from as far afield as Kenya, Cuba, Mongolia, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, and even the UK!” The aim is to, “combine the centuries-old skills and traditions of the touring circus troupe with a contemporary approach to staging.”

“Was that really only an hour?” I wonder in astonishment as we shuffle towards the exit, the slowest anyone has moved in in the Lennox Theatre in what seems like a lifetime. Of all the superhuman feats achieved packing that much into the preceding 60mins has to be one of the most remarkable. There’s more room to manoeuvre in Elberel’s glass bottle, before the Mongolian contortionist has begun to emerge, than there is space left in Cirque Berserk’s running order. And all of it is as much on target as the arrows she fires with her feet.

The Timbuktu Tumblers are definitely who you would call upon to help steal the world’s largest cubic zirconia from the Springfield Museum. For me, they represent the essence and the core of the Cirque Berserk experience.  Human pyramids, jumping through hoops, limbo with fire – Acrobatics is probably an art form as ancient as painting pictures of bison and woolly mammoths on cave walls. It has been a part of the human experience since before there were streets to perform in. And yet, The Timbuktu Tumblers – who also provide much of the staging sinews as the later acts come on and off – feel as immediate and authentic as a tumbler of mature single malt as they distil the history, skill, and precision required to make a measure of great art seem artless and straightforward.

The acts that follow are a showcase of talent and skill that put all else this EdFringe into the shade. There are Argentinian Bolas, the incredibly moving Four Hands & Two Wheels, strength, beauty, human catapults, knife throwing, aerial acrobatics, the best foot juggler in the world, a giant death robot, a tower of chairs and, to crown all, the extraordinary sound and fury of the Lucius Team with their motorcycles and Globe of Death – a coup de théâtre that has never been brought to a theatre before. And yet, there is a little something there that’s missing.

The most memorable revues are underpinned by an underlying narrative. A story that weaves the disparate elements together into a unified whole. The potential for such a narrative within Cirque Berserk is hinted at by the massive stage presence of Paulo dos Santos. The Brazillian native stands 3ft 6ins in his sneakers, but he dominates proceedings with his clowning, juggling, balancing, and crazy dangerous acrobatics. Together with the very lovely ladies of the Berserk Dancers & Aerial Ballet, he tells (without speaking) an over the rainbow tale of high ambition brought low. With a little bit more tweaking that (for me) essential element of traditional circus, the Ringmaster, could have been introduced while adding the very real bonus of delivering even more of the dos Santos magic. But that really is just me.

This is not a show that should be seen by dad’s of a nervous disposition, the kind who seem to spend their days strongly suggesting to preschoolers that they need to be more careful. It’s all I can do not to charge the stage, stand at the bottom to the 20-foot tower of chairs constructed by Fidel Silot and scream at the Cuban daredevil to, “get down from there this instant. Go perform the trick of sitting at the bottom of the stairs and thinking about what you’ve done.”

Daughter 1.0 (aged 4), by contrast, has entered a state of nirvana that Kung Fu Panda’s Master Oogway could only achieve by sitting alone in a cave for thirty years asking one question. It took Picasso four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. Oh! to be able to see Cirque Berserk through eyes that have no sense that what they are watching is not what the rest of the world is like. Of all our shared EdFringe ‘19 experiences, this has been the highlight. It’s not just that the memories will linger, most likely forever, but that the most essential lesson a parent can teach a child has been demonstrated beyond dispute. “Baby girl what is impossible? I whisper as Alan Pagnota stands behind Rafael Ferrerira’s wheelchair and the crowd goes wild for the duo. “Nothing is impossible,” she rejoins without a trace of doubt in her voice.



Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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