Circus Review Bingo

Inspired by Billy Barrett’s ‘Edinburgh Fringe Bingo‘, I feel compelled to share a new game with you.  Here are some of my personal bugbears that I find cropping up time and time again in reviews of circus productions.

First to a full-house wins!

I know I have succumbed to some of these in the past, but I’m learning. Of course there are no hard and fast rules, but anyone who wants their circus critique to actually mean something should have a think about the following:  

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‘Makes you want to run away with the circus’ – You may be right, but the phrase crops up with such regularity that it’s become an irritating cliché.  And remember, you can only speak for yourself.  You can’t tell if it’ll make US want to run away with the circus.

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Reference to ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ – This I don’t actually mind, as long as it’s relevant and not a throwaway slug.  But again, quite common…

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‘Indescribable’ – Lazy lazy lazy.  It might be difficult if you’ve never seen this sort of work before, but if you’re going to the effort of writing the review, the least you can do is try to explain what you saw.  A little research wouldn’t hurt either.

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Physical skills focus – Sound and design elements are a part of the show too.  How do they impact on your total experience?

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‘Achieving the impossible’ – Yes, that’s an oxymoronic statement.

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‘No scary clowns’ – If ‘No scary clowns‘ is becoming a critical cliché, then surely people should stop expecting them and referencing them? We no longer expect troupes of 30 polar bears either, but critics don’t feel the need to note their absence!  And again, your fears are unlikely to be the same as those of your readers, so do try and be clear about what you mean.

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Reference to writer’s own fitness levels – Is this really relevant? Please.

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‘Unbelievable’ – You honestly didn’t believe what you were seeing?

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‘Defying Gravity’ – No, it’s not Wicked. No-one really defies gravity. Circus artists work with it, and their muscular control, in a very specific way to do things most of us haven’t the patience, tenacity or pain thresholds for.

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‘Mind-blowing’ – If they’re all ‘mind-blowing‘, great, but how do we gain any sense of perspective? Watch the accuracy and relativity of superlatives.

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‘A performer’ (no credits) – If someone tried to review a ballet company and referred to the stars as ‘a dancer’, or ‘a female dancer’ (no, I’m not sure why we need the distinction either) someone would be up in arms that the principles weren’t getting their due.  Same here.  It’s not always easy to find names, but that’s our job.

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‘Doing things that most of us can only dream of’ – Would be more apt to say, ‘Doing things that most of us WILL only dream of‘.  The thing about dreams is that you generally need will and dedication to make them happen.  Then you too could be up in the air or throwing things and people around.

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Comparison to Cirque Du Soleil – Does every theatre company get compared to the RSC? No! Don’t do it, unless there’s a very specific reason.

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‘Unique’ – A lot of people haven’t seen a lot of circus. So something that seems unique to you may not actually be so.  Research can help here too.

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Generic categories for disciplines – If it’s juggling, what sort of juggling? Contact, bounce, toss… What props were used? If it’s aerial, what equipment? There’s a lot of variety out there… Possibly my least favourite phrase of all time is ‘all the usual circus stuff’.

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What it’s not – I’d rather hear about what it IS.

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I love it when I find new people writing about circus, so hope this can be a bit of encouraging fun rather than a damning blow. And remember, be honest in your subjectivity.  One reviewer can never speak for the world, or know all there is to know, so don’t attempt to write like you do!

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  1. Indeed such clichés are incredibly irritating. In the clown world we have some more, the worst being:

    bring/send in the clowns
    clowns are not just big feet and red noses

    Also the constant mentions of ‘physical theatre’ or ‘physical comedy’.

    1. Good to note, cheers Jon! Probably fallen foul of the ‘physical comedy’ one myself before now; thinking about it, I guess the difficulty is with the non-specific nature of the term instead of detailing the how/what/why of performance that would be more useful?
      Or is there more to it than that?

  2. This post really described my feelings when reading circus reviews. I have just started to write reviews myself and sometimes I feel that I have been close at falling into these traps 🙂

    Actually in here in Sweden I have been seeing some posters starting with “Forget sad animals in cages…” When announcing for Cirkus Cirkör. Usually this lack of animals is used to decribe contemporary circus here.

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