Circa: Wunderkammer

The clue is in the name: Wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities) is a vaudevillian affair, a sophisticated cabaret/variety show that presents a series of acts, with no aspirations towards a narrative. Circus not circus-theatre – which is more than good enough for me. All the components of a good variety show are here: lots of breathtakingly skilled circus acts, and plenty of saucy moments that edge towards burlesque (more than one pair of trousers lost). Expect sassy costumes of shiny black undies or leotards or swimsuits or mankinis, paired with hot-pink and lime green accessories. There are moments of seriousness, but ironic humour is the order of the day.

Acts include a beefy boy-on-boy acrobalance number to the tune of Shirley Bassey’s Kiss Me Honey Honey. Later there’s more Bassey, this time a live guitar rendition of Big Spender for another beefcake moment – there are so many verging-on-soft-porn male striptease acts in this show that I sometimes wonder if I‘ve wandered into Briefs instead, but no – there’s no feathers or Lurex here. There’s a contortion act using a very small hoop (cue tango tune), a number of contemporary clown vignettes using stretchy neon-coloured rubber bands that are gobbled and pulled like chewing gum, and a joyful play with a roll of bubblewrap, in which every last bubble is popped. The opener is a very slow hoop act in low lighting – a stark contrast to the usual high-energy whirl and twirl hula-hooping (although we get some of that later). There is a strange and mesmerising staccato action from the solo female performer that is so different to the usual ‘feminine’ hip rotations and sensuous circling we associate with hooping.

All the things we’ve come to know and love about Circa are here: the strong women who are just as likely to base as fly; the tongue-in-cheek play on assigned gender roles and sexuality; the skill and professionalism that mark them out as one of the world’s top circus companies. Acrobatics, trapeze, Chinese pole – every act is top-notch, beautifully honed and finely tuned.

The setting, the imposing dome-ceilinged Mc Ewan hall; is softened with soft black ceiling silks, the late-afternoon light coming through the stained-glass windows adding another element to the clever lighting design, which uses a set of short LED/fluorescent tubes that light up in vibrant colour combinations  – at the start of the show, just one or two lit up in boudoir red, balanced with a purple wash; later, a whole forest of electric blue and citron lemon, or deep violet paired with apricot. Shadows cast across the majestic architecture of the hall adds another interesting scenic element.

This is the third Circa show I’ve seen in recent months, and taken together they demonstrate the very varied repertoire of the company (the other two are their high-art piece How Like An Angel, and their new surreal cabaret work Beyond, both seen at Norfolk & Norwich Festival, May 2013) Wunderkammer is the most accessible of the three – it’s a crowd-pleaser, and the Edinburgh crowd were very pleased indeed, giving the company a well-deserved ovation as they returned for a curtain-call to the tune of, appropriately enough, You Sexy Thing.

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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.