Paulos Circus, 2018

Review from: York; 22nd April 2018

The top of Paulos Circus’ pink and yellow tent against a blue sky IMAGE: Stuart Ambler

Tented circus is often steeped in traditional imagery that evokes the art form’s history, but Paulos Circus bucks many of these aesthetic trends and offers a modern twist on the classic formula. This can even be seen in their branding: gone are stereotypical circus posters in favour of hand-drawn artwork and a bright pink big top.

That being said, Paulos still offer many of the traditional ingredient acts you might expect to see under a big top – acrobats, tightrope walkers, juggling, a knife-throwing act and a bucket full of slapstick comedy. As with most UK circuses now, this is an all-human cast, with a talented team of performers from around the world who we visit as a family of four, during their three-week run near Roko Health Club.

[Description: Against a canvas decorated with twinkling stars that echo twinkling strings of lights, the Wheel of Death is suspended above the circus ring, a member of Los Sanchez standing on each of the red wheels, connected at a central axel ready to spin]
Unusually, the show opens with the Los Sanchez trio’s Wheel of Death, often a closer or at least a second act opener. Day of the Dead inspired performers spin and leap around the huge spinning contraption with no safety net in sight. A stunt I’ve seen countless times now but nonetheless impressive, and setting the energy in the tent high from the word go. At the end of the show, the same team perform multiple feats on a highwire, incorporating a bicycle, a chair and a blindfold.

A sharp knife throwing act (pun-intended!) with a James Bond flavour shows Duo Vinkali perform some innovative twists on the usual routine. A few near misses and dropped knives only served to show how hard an act like this really is.

[Description: Laser beams burst out towards the audience from Yuri Gottani’s hand] IMAGE: Run Jump Scrap
A first for me is Yuri Gottani’s high-energy laserman act, perhaps an epileptic’s worst nightmare – flashy, in every sense of the word. Lasers become seemingly solid and manipulated, split in half and spun around, in an act reminiscent of US magician Jason Latimer (although still significantly different). Add to that theatrical smoke and cascading glitter, and it’s a visual feast that captivates the audience.

Ms Aurelie (Aurelie Gottani)’s aerial hoop act is made all the more eye-catching with a rainbow LED hoop and UV lighting. Dangling from her feet, from a wrist loop, or performing static trapeze moves from her ring, she makes the skills look effortless: the sign of a well-honed act. These are often the routines that young children can get restless during, but the lighting and bright colours really help here.

[Description: Mr N gets a dusting down from ringmaster Leigh Darnell and a broom. His face, beneath a straw wig and oversized crown that contrast his smartly checked pink waistcoat, looks shocked]
A high-speed juggling act from Vincent Vinkali features contact juggling, plus balls and clubs tossed in a variety of slick tricks. The whole outfit is smart and polished, with bright white props and a white suit and fedora ensemble. Again, apparently effortless – not a single stumble or drop – and, as it doesn’t go on for long, the novelty doesn’t wear off.

Mr N (Raul Nadler) is the comic relief between acts, interacting with ringmaster Leigh Darnell with clown skits old and new, and plenty of general audience participation. Only one member of the audience is invited into the ring to assist, so nervous spectators can rest easy! Having visited Paulos before though, we did miss the inclusion of Patchy the clown (although he may have been absent through illness?).

A thumping soundtrack accompanies many acts, along with well-timed comedy sound effects to punctuate key moments. I do feel like I’ve been spoiled with a recent visit to Circus Krone in Munich – featuring a full live band in a permanent venue that offers a greater richness of sound. The only issue with sound at Paulos though, is during the opening voiceover as a puppet introduces the show. As in previous years, this is virtually incomprehensible and needs cranking up a notch.

[Description: Above the audience’s heads, in a haze of blue light, Ms Aurelie is a tiny figure performing splits on an aerial hoop, hanging by one foot and with one arm in a dangling wrist strap attached to the top of the hoop, her other arm and leg pointing gracefully in the opposite direction] IMAGE: This Day I Love
The usual flashing wands and snacks are available, although no souvenir programmes to tell us the names of the acts, which surprises me as I would have imagined these to be a good money spinner. My only slight niggle with the day was that candyfloss wasn’t available for sale either. To me, that’s a staple of my circus experience and we had promised our son the sugary pink treat. With popcorn liable to cause choking in very young children, there wasn’t an alternative sweet snack on offer.

It’s worth arriving early as there is no seating plan or even separate areas – all tickets cost the same and so it can be a bit of a free-for-all (although staff are very helpful in assisting with this). We hit traffic and arrived fifteen minutes before showtime to a packed tent. This meant we couldn’t be seated together as a family, but were relatively close. We were seated towards the back, but still had a good view of the action.

It is refreshing to see a full house, especially as this is after the Easter holidays have ended. Other British circuses I’ve visited have often suffered from poor attendance, and the empty seats don’t applaud so much. Whether this is due to Paulos’ solid reputation, the low price of £7 a ticket (£5 with a voucher), or the recent Hugh Jackman hit The Greatest Showman, it’s great to see that circus is alive and well!

[Description: A man with his face painted like a skull sits on a chair that balances close above us on a highwire, holding a long pole that crosses his lap]
At seventy minutes for the price of a couple of coffees from a high street chain, Paulos Circus offers excellent value for money for a family treat that won’t break the bank. My eldest loved it and is now roleplaying ‘circus’ at home. My youngest was standing in the aisle clapping along…at only 20 months old! In a world of phones, tablets and games consoles, the next generation of circus-goers need live entertainment on their doorstep, and Paulos Circus delivers…candy floss or no candy floss!

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