CircusFest, The Roundhouse, London; 22nd April 2014
The bare brick walls and exposed metalwork of the Roundhouse Studio provide a wonderful venue for the low-glitz, hands-on tech of Beta Testing, the first hour-long collaboration from Circus Geeks Arron Sparks, Jon Udry and Matt Pang.
In a performance lecture designed to shed some light on the ‘real job’ of a juggler, we are challenged to take the performers’ skills for granted – as audience’s often do – while the trio move between wittily choreographed set pieces, and the everyday routines of their world.
Sparks is the humble ‘head-geek’, showing us the passions and knowledge that must lurk inside all professional jugglers beneath the showman-exteriors, and I hope Pang will come to enjoy his role of Fool as much as Udry relishes his as Antagonist – the audience are with each one, to which the frequent laughter attests.
If sports are a science and theatre is an art, the company prove why circus sits so contentiously in the middle; the three jugglers lead us through the technical backstories of their skill – producing charts and graphs to illustrate training methodologies, or wet fish and jelly babies to highlight the psychological drive of a professional athlete – whilst managing to connect, engage with and intrigue us in their presentation.
I particularly enjoy the sharing of ‘in-jokes’ that make the alien world of juggling more accessible, and the historical points of reference that make me feel like I’m learning something as well as being entertained – as with Sparks’ variation on Luke Wilson’s ‘Red/Blue‘. (Look it up – or, better yet, go see the show!)
Udry’s sequence of toss/contact ring juggling is playful and exuberant, and the trio’s ‘Quick Tricks‘ number is elaborate, attention grabbing, and filled with the joie de jonglerie that characterises this charming production.
The finalé raises the level of visual interest even further, and we appear to be watching a fully produced music video in real-time, complete with digital effects, and multi-media trickery. This ‘new skool’ display doesn’t leave any window for boredom to creep through.
‘Beta Testing’ may be a juggling show, about juggling, but Circus Geeks have managed to provide a full circus experience for the Zuckerberg generation. The shifts through humour, surprise, suspense and contemplation give us the essential elements of a big-top night out, and the speed and variety of the changes easily hold the focus of an audience more used to Google searches and quick-fire info-bites.
The rhythmic nature of the juggling ‘numbers’ appeals to my sense of dance, of music, of poetry, and of humour; the ‘demonstration’ content appeals to my inner geek, straining at the leash to get on Google and explore their references further (and even more excited about the free ebook we all receive vouchers for after the performance!)
A complete, well-conceived, timely and very entertaining show!