For days I’ve been longingly peering over the small fence to where the delicately painted Bullzini Family wagon and tightwire rig are set, and today I’m in time to catch their show. I’m delighted when Phoebe Bullzini (aka Phoebe Baker) invites me into their compound, offering Earl Grey tea (with lemon, of course) from a wooden table, set with fine bone china and copper kettles. Dressed in a lacy blue frock that hearkens back to Victorian music hall costumes, and complements the travelling wagon perfectly, Miss Phoebe also provides her guests with vintage photo albums to peruse, filled with images of funambulists from days gone by.
I feel for Christopher’s voice against the heavily amplified stage nearby, but am pleased to be able to hear his narrative clearly from up front. The chest-height wire keeps all the action easily within our sight-lines, and allows for members of the audience to become part of the tale – saving the day, as Miss Baker faces the danger in aptly historical melodramatic style. (It’s only later that I start to wonder if the ‘Baker’ connection is in fact a genuine family tie.)
For the next educative account, Christopher becomes both the infamous Blondin, and competitive rival Farini, while Phoebe narrates. In a duel of one-upmanship, the tricks build through blindfolds, tea and chair balances, and I especially enjoy the forward rolls over the wire as dramatic portrayal of the feud.
This is a storytelling show at its heart, where the past and future blur together, reminding us that we are all a product of what’s come before. This may be a romanticised version but heck, we do love a bit of romance. The genuine historical details are a great way of engaging us with the stories, and I wish the whole audience had the opportunity to enjoy the photo album, and lovely old-fashioned copy of Hermine Demoriane’s wonderful book The Tightrope Walker, that we few within the compound did.
Time for Tea is a genteel vignette of funambulist history, and I would love to see it developed into a full-length show.