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