Hitch - Mary Bijou Cabaret - Photo by Tom Beardshaw

Big Sexy Circus: Hitch! | Swing Circus |Cabaret

There’s a brand new circus venue at the Edinburgh Fringe! No, I don’t mean Circus Hub (although that too). What I’m talking about is Big Sexy Circus at Fountainbridge. A large site, with two tents – which they miraculously managed to erect and rig in the wind and rain of the Edinburgh summer. It can be done! An outdoor bar, and tables bearing parasols. A couple of food stalls. At the gates, a couple of stilt walkers in Regency garb greet us. As we sip our pre-show drinks, a pair of smiley performers do a pretty good acrobalance set, standing on tables, plinths and walls. And – oh look! – high above us a wire-walker is moving from an aerial rig up, up, up and over the larger of the two tents.

I’ve come to see Hitch! which is presented in the smaller of the tents, with international spectacular Wings running concurrently every night in the large tent. But as it turns out, all of us here for Hitch! have a three-for-the-price-of-one ticket, with an invitation to stay for Swing Circus and the late-night Big Sexy Circus Cabaret. The ethos of the space seems to be about sharing and supporting, so it feels appropriate to round up the whole evening as one experience.

Hitch! I’ve somehow managed to miss at both the Brighton Fringe 2014, and this year at Jackson’s Lane. So I’ve had it on my list for a long while. It was worth the wait – a really engaging and entertaining circus show. As the name implies, the piece is an homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. A number of circus acts inspired by, or adapted to, the theme are mulched together with an overarching, rather camp, aesthetic. The men are, for the most part (more on that later!) in sharp suits, white shirts and ties; the women cool Grace Kelly blondes or dark-haired vamps. There’s a band too – always great to have live music with circus, and what we get here is a nice mix of original compositions and clever musical references to the classic Hitchcock soundtracks, all done very nicely (the Psycho screeching violins are delivered in a short burst, just enough for us to get the reference without over-egging the cake). On a beguiling mix of guitar, bass, vocals and laptop are the very versatile Tom Elstop and Tia Kalmaru (who, rather marvellously, looks like an escapee from 1927 theatre company, with her Louise Brooks bob and her straight-up-and-down black dress with a little collar).

When you think about it, Hitchcock’s themes lend themselves very well to circus. Rope. Vertigo. Stagefright. Birds. As the hour whizzes by, we ricochet from one film to another.  Spellbound in the form of a very nice, laconic solo trapeze piece by Tom Ball; then Rear Window with our compere, George Orange Fuller, now changed into pyjamas, wheeling himself round the space in a wheelchair, leg in a cast, binoculars in hand. ‘Grace Kelly’ appears, and there is a lovely duet – sitting somewhere between contact impro, acro and clown – on, around over and under the wheelchair. Stagefright is hoop – with a great mix of controlled hooping and a teasing spoken text by the mesmerising Anna Sandreuter. The Birds is, of course, an aerial act – silks, by the feisty bird-girl Aislinn Mulligan. As is (later) Topaz, with the multi-talented Sandreuter back on corde lisse. There’s plenty of ground action too, and the relationship between ground and air is used very well in both a 39 Steps/North by Northwest man-fight scene, which moves from ground to air (the trapeze again, but this time a duet), and a mock-tentative slack rope act by George Orange Fuller channelling Vertigo. More Vertigo in a marvellous Hitchcock Blondes scene, which sees performer Joe Wild relieved of his dapper brown suit and re-dressed in frock and blonde wig, whilst lip-synching to the soundtrack of what I assume is an interview with Kim Novak about the deception at the heart of the film’s plot. He makes a very lovely Madeleine – and is joined onstage by the other gentlemen of the cast, showing off their legs…

The team of circus artists, physical theatre performers, and musicians all work together to create a winning ensemble work. It isn’t deep or profound, it doesn’t challenge any boundaries – it’s solid skills and sound entertainment delivered with panache, and that’s good enough for me.

After a short break, it’s back in the tent for Swing Circus. Which is exactly what it says on the can – swing dancing and circus acts. The dancing element is some pretty nifty swing / lindy hop from two couples. The circus acts include a unicyclist / juggler called Sam, who has a lovely way about him, a long, lanky boy with an innocent gaze held behind geeky black-rimmed glasses. He’s dressed as a waiter, and his finale is a cycle ride over a row of wine glasses. A girl in a dress with Charleston style fringing delivers a clever and cheery mix of juggling/object manipulation and dance/gentle contortion. There was a drag king club juggling act too. But it’s not all juggling – there’s aerial too. There are times when the dancers and the circus performers come together, demonstrating the obvious connection between aerial lifts in swing and acrobalance. A good-time show that does what it sets out to do well.

I stay on for some of the following Big Sexy Circus Cabaret, which (as is the wont with late night circus cabarets) focuses on the comic and the burlesque. I catch a horrifying nail-through-nostril to hand-in-rabbit-trap sideshow act; a very odd sort-of juggling act employing large yoga balls and audience participation; and a kind of synchronised swimming on silks comic aerial act. All fine and dandy, for what it is. But by now my concentration levels have dropped, and I feel it’s best to quit while I’m winning. I sneak away into the night, out through the gate, up the road past the re-sited Ladyboys, and back into the Edinburgh night.

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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing. www.dorothymaxprior.com