Victoria Gardens, Tipton; 14th March 2015
The red and white tent of Circus Funtasia sits in a grassy hollow like a magic toadstool, and I pass under a string of electric light bulbs to see what waits inside. Smart navy and gold military uniforms and courteous Eastern European accents usher visitors to our red bucket seats, while Emilion Delbosq wanders among the arriving audience as if another enthusiastic – albeit slightly eccentric – fan.
Welcoming scents of popcorn and candyfloss waft around under the well-heated canvas, whose dark blue colouring with red and white accents is carried through into a cohesive colour theme that runs throughout this very well designed show. Emilion’s presence gently warms us into the heightened circus world we are about to join, and his behaviour gradually draws our attention towards the central ring for the show to begin. While a ring boy tries to prepare the arena, nerdy-looking clown Emilion tries to take photographs. Tonight he is an excited super-fan who doesn’t seem to know the conventions of how a ‘proper’ audience should behave, consistently keen to help the performers put on the best show possible.
When we’re deemed ready, the company overtake the stage, bounding in wearing bold workmen’s overalls to a classical big band circus tune from the sound system. This moves into a rock number for Nia Nikolov to take the stage for a juggling act. In her backwards baseball cap and urban youth clothing she is hip, cool and, at 12 years old, billed as the youngest performer currently touring in a UK circus. I enjoy the punky choreographed kicks in her routine, and wish she would inject her dance moves with some of the commitment and vigour that we see when Emilion lets loose. After we see her work clubs, tennis rackets, and then four rings, there is a dramatic shift into a green and hazy cube spinning sequence to a War of The Worlds soundtrack.
The musical choices throughout the show are excellent, propelling our emotions through tension, humour and poeticism. The sound technician working opposite the ring also shows perfect timing during Emilion’s clever date-night mime, involving members of the audience taken for a ride in his invisible car, complete with slamming doors, squealing brakes, and in-car stereo.
Set changes are slick and unobtrusive, and the next act is Agnes on an aerial sling made of stretchy mauve velour-like fabric. The electric violin and dub-base of the soundtrack give energy and edge to the controlled pacing of postures and drops.
As the lights drop to black, I feel the heat of flames before I see the glow of a fire fan being brought in from behind me. The smell of petrol fuels the air of drama created by piratical music and costuming, and Antonio proceeds to belch fire, spin flaming poi, and crack a blazing whip which sends bursts of flame shooting up at every snap. The pirate theme returns several times throughout the evening, and I notice that flashing cutlasses are among the glowing toys for sale before the show and during the interval.
Next though, are Diamond Duo, Honza and Jitka, with an elegant quick change act. The pair have great chemistry, and a fast act with lots of surprising variation. The final change as Honza pours a bucket of confetti over his bride’s head is real life Disney magic.
The Viennese conductor fails to appear for the next act, allowing Emilion a chance to prove himself to ring-mistress Tracey Jones. He leads the audience in a sequence of clapping which culminates in a great sense of achievement as we suddenly find ourselves playing a classical tune.
The pirates are back as the 5-man Troupe Julio flood the stage, performing somersaults and layouts from a Russian swing. They are joined by young Nia for a teeterboard act that closes with a back somersault performed by Nia and her father Julio, who is also one of the circus directors with his wife Tracey.
Circus Funtasia was only founded in 2013, but the years of experience managing and performing are evident in the professional quality of this production.
After the interval – and raffle for a giant Minion toy – we find the ring has been set with a long trampoline that stretches from the ring curtain to a large crashmat at the edge of the ring. As the lights dim we hear the ‘Hi Ho!’ of Disney’s seven dwarves, and a comical bouncing display from Troupe Julio (complete with garden gnome inspired costuming) opens the second half, reintroducing a great atmosphere of fun.
Tracey and Emilion engage in some traditional ringmaster/clown banter, while maintaining the thread of Emilion’s fan character trying to take a picture. The direction of this show ensures that thematic threads are well followed through, tying the acts together without any imposed narrative.
Up next are Attila and Dominik in a gripping hand-to-hand routine that hearkens back to images of classical statuary. The controlled slowness of the two men’s movements provides a gravitas that highlights their breathing and concentration as they interchangeably base each other in a display of strength and balance.
A surprise German wheel act not mentioned on the website comes from Lucia, whose veiled entrance creates a sultry feminine silhouette in contrast to the previous act. I am a little distracted by the copious presentation of salutes between rolling tricks, but the spiral finish is effective.
Another pirate is with us as Zoly takes to his aerial straps in a number that evokes a sense of preparing for and facing great challenge. His great line, strength and grace make him a pleasure to watch as he soars up to the roof of the tent.
As the ring is rigged for the finalé, Emilion returns to the audience to find members for his band. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen the routine before, as every volunteer brings their own hilarious nuances which Emilion astutely plays up. A ludicrously long pistol prevents the atmosphere from becoming too shocking as the band members are ‘fired’ one by one, till a solo performer emerges victorious.
Latin fiesta music signals the return of the Diamond Duo, dressed in bright white and blue to perform on their sparkling chrome finished Wheel of Death. Circus Funtasia truly present a feel good show, and the lightness of this presentation makes a great contrast to the heavy drama that’s often played up with these acts. As the pair run and jump to rotate the mechanism, Honza juggles clubs and, in a moment of silence, dons a black hood to walk blindfolded over his spinning wheel. The tension of the moment is released with party time vibrancy and clapping, and a joyful juggling finish from the ensemble finally earns super fan Emilion his place within the circus.
Circus Funtasia offer a lovely and expertly directed show that leaves me smiling for the rest of the night.