Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

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.

Follow My Leader

Out There Festival leads the way with a fabulously rich programme of street theatre, circus and cabaret, presented in the streets, parks, beaches, and housing estates of Great Yarmouth 

It’s Saturday night, the weekend before the autumn equinox, and there’s a bit of a chill in the air here in St George’s Park, Great Yarmouth. It’s 9pm, and we are awaiting the start of Silence!, the big processional show by French street arts company Les Commandos Percu, which is one of the highlights of this year’s Out There International Festival of Outdoor Arts & Circus programme.

And yes, here they come. A bunch of wild-looking men, some sort of mutant cross between steampunks and cyborgs, banging drums, shouting. With them, a team of pyrotechnicians, waving flares, throwing out firecrackers. So, off we go, past the park, along the street, and down to the seafront, the crowd gathering in size as we go. We head onto the main drag, neon lights flashing out the arcade names: Circus Circus, Gold Rush, Silver Slipper, Golden Nugget. The people streaming by are turned into shadow theatre silhouettes by those ultra-bright lights. The crowd is filling the wide avenue now – I fall behind and can no longer see Les Commandos, but I can hear them. By the time we get to the beach, people are lined up six-deep along the promenade. Ah, but there’s nothing to stop us getting on to the beach! I move along to the right, almost to the Big Wheel, and make my way onto the sand, where there’s a lot more space and a good view of the group, who have now climbed up onto their set, a fabulous rocky mountain that moves through a rainbow of colours, an ice-blue glacier one minute and a red-hot volcano the next, the indigo night sky and the shimmering sea behind them adding to the visual picture. Sound and vision work in tandem: as the musicians hammer out their thunderous beats, the ‘rock’ erupts in enormous bursts of fire and light. The music is loud – very loud – a hellfire hybrid of all sorts of rhythms, one minute sounding like a sci-fi samba troupe, the next closer to post-punk experimenters Test Department. As it all comes to a monumental climax, and the artists take their bow, the crowd erupts, clapping and cheering – delighted to have the big Saturday night spectacle back on the menu for Out There Festival. 

Les Cammandos Percu: Silence! Photo David Street

What very few here in this crowd know is that it was a close call as to whether it would happen – with the festival taking place within the official mourning period for Queen Elizabeth, there was a week of behind-the scenes negotiating to ensure that the programme, including the Saturday night parade, would go ahead. The festival directors stood their ground, and after much negotiation, it all happened – unlike very many other outdoor arts events across the country that got pulled. It is, to my mind, strange that anyone should feel it is somehow ‘disrespectful’ to make art during a mourning period, but we live in strange times. However, in order to appease the powers-that-be, the Festival made a number of concessions to the programme. Les Commandos Percu’s Silence! incorporates a minute’s silence, and is followed by the national anthem. And the festival’s Sunday programme finishes a couple of hours earlier than planned (with an earlier start so nothing is cut) in order to adhere to guidance on national mourning on the eve of the Queen’s funeral. 

The Friday evening Party in the Park ends up being transferred indoors to The Drill House – but that’s more about the inclement weather than the Queen.  So we get to stay inside, in the warm, as the wind howls and the rain falls – entertained by a line-up that includes the cheery and highly talented double act Jones & Barnard, whose years of experience as physical comedians and cabaret performers is in strong evidence in their hilarious take on magic and escapology; and the fabulous Department of Gruff, who, resplendent in some very lovely latex whole-head dog masks treat us to their versions of classics such as Puppy Love, How Much is that Doggie in the Window?, and (my favourite) The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. 

Sarah Munro: Miss O’Genie’s Dazzling Dollirama

Saturday morning – and although it isn’t that warm, at least it’s dry. So, wrapped up and clad in sturdy boots, off I head into the streets and parks of Yarmouth. Like other iterations of Out There Festival that I’ve witnessed, the 2022 programme proves to be a good mix of artforms, embracing traditional street theatre, experimental performance and installation, music, dance, and circus. Oh, and this year we also had parkour – more on that anon.

I start off with Miss O’Genie’s Dazzling Dollirama, in which Sarah Munro of the late lamented Insect Circus, in her first solo venture, presents an alternative to the regular fairground coconut shy. Miss O’Genie’s ‘damnable dolls’ turn out to be a set of famous misogynists, or archetypal misogynist figures, who we are invited to batter with fake fruit. So, you can have a go at knocking Boris Johnson or the Pope off his pedestal. Or perhaps you’d prefer to down Putin from his horse, pummel Mr Punch, or get your revenge on a gynaecologist.

As a proud former punk, I take great delight in smashing down a hippy with a nice chunky avocado. Of course, the children of Great Yarmouth join in keenly (groups of teenagers too, who are delighted that it’s free to play and that winners get sweeties), and parents are easily coerced to have a go. The show is new, but has its roots in an installation done by Sarah Munro for Vanessa Toulmin’s The Wonder Show, a contemporary reworking of classic circus sideshow acts. It works very well in this new context, and is a great addition to the outdoor arts circuit. Fun for all the family – and proof that political performance doesn’t have to be po-faced to make a point.

The Dazzling Dollirama is one of a number of installation pieces presented at this year’s Out There Festival – and interestingly enough, challenging misogyny seems to be a key theme. Scottish artist Eilidh Reilly’s Alright Doll takes the form of a number of signs hung from trees (‘Educate Your Sons’ says one, which I am drawn to as a mother of three sons!) and a soundtrack of verbatim texts recorded from interviews with women, debunking the notion of the ‘unlucky’ woman victim of violence, and challenging mainstream portrayals of street harassment. At various points in the day, Eilidh Reilly invites passing women to sit down with a cup of tea and contribute soundbites to the work. Alright Doll was supported by Surge (Scotland) as part of the Four Nations programme for emerging artists, which offered funding to six artists to create work that has toured to Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. It’s good to see multi-media installation included in the programme – it might not have as immediate an appeal as the classic street theatre or circus show, but I think audiences appreciate the variety offered at Out There.

And talking of variety, an odd-bod addition to the programme is Japanese musician ICHI with his One Man Band, in which he sets up on the corner of a busy shopping road and plays a fabulous array of unusual and homemade instruments, from wonky keyboards to mellotrons and a Kalilaphone (a kind of whistling calliope, I think this might be) via bells and balloons. It is all totally bats and absolutely brilliant.

Spitz & Co: Blue Hawaii

On to the more regular festival shows now. Flying the flag for classic street theatre come Spitz & Co, previously seen at Out There Festival 2019 with the fabulous Les Gloriables, which referenced and deconstructed Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The company’s latest work, Blue Hawaii, is also a two-hander. The subject this time is Elvis Presley – or rather, it merges the stories of Elvis and an Elvis impersonator who is remaking the film Blue Hawaii, played here by (yes!) a well-known Elvis impersonator, Joe Reeve. And I’ll say here that my walk home at 10pm the previous evening taught me that Elvis is alive and well and living in Yarmouth – almost every pub I passed was either playing Elvis tunes or had an Elvis impersonator performing live. So naturally, this show goes down very well with the local crowd. Joe Reeve as Elvis/the Elvis impersonator sings brilliantly and works very well with Spitz mainstay Suzie Donkin, whose alter-ego Josephine Cunningham plays everyone else – tour manager, girlfriend, fan or whatever (game-playing within game-playing here). As with Les Gloriables, there’s a great deal of fourth-wall breaking and stepping in and out of the action, emphasising the fact that a show is being created live in front of our very eyes, in a public space. Costumes (Hawaiian shirts, glittery jumpsuits) are tugged on and off, in full view or behind deliberately inadequate screens that hide nothing. Audience members are drawn in to the action – blow-up dolphins are crowd-surfed, people are serenaded, and there’s a very lovely scene featuring a pre-schoolers’ air-guitar contest that morphs into choosing a band to back Elvis. We always feel that we are in safe hands, and Suzie AKA Josephine in particular has an enviable ability to respond in the moment to whatever is happening in the space, with true street theatre sassiness and know-how.

Adrenalism: Hey Idiots, Text Me Your Climate Change Solutions. Photo Katherine Mager

Also a two-hander, and also demonstrating an admirable ability to hold a space, communicate with an audience, and think on their feet come Adrenalism – a young company who are already performing with a great deal of street theatre noose. Hey Idiots, Text Me Your Climate Change Solutions features a pair of middle-management PR guys called Warren and Stew, who (despite working for a fossil fuel multinational), are tasked with drawing us into a collective bout of blue-sky thinking to solve the climate change crisis. Yep, just like that! Easy peasy! We can do it, we have scientists! We first meet our two stooges on the street, hoisting up their ‘Text Me’ placard, clambering up onto dustbins to proclaim their intents, tripping over street furniture, and herding people into the performance area. Once they’ve rounded up an audience, we’re into an increasingly ridiculous mock-conference, with a classic clown ‘master and servant’ set-up as bossy Warren belittles the poor (Lamb) Stew and cajoles him into a ludicrous blow-up world costume, whilst also scrolling through the texts coming in on his outdated Nokia that can’t read the emojis. In a world awash with ‘climate change’ shows, it is great to see one that so cleverly satirises the notion of quick-fix and painless solutions – particularly if they are being touted by the very people who’ve caused the problem in the first place. A wonderfully refreshing piece of street theatre – if we’re in the end days for human life on this planet, at least, with Adrenalism, we’ll go down laughing. 

Another Out There show tackling the climate crisis, Foolish Doom, is the brainchild of Peter Sweet and Leonie Baker, working under the name Tiny Colossus. They play the wizard Burnhart (a kind of Gandalf/Merlin/Dumbledore hybrid) and his loyal creature Pippa (a green-skinned imp) who have been magically transported here to save our world. After a strong start, riffing on the power of magic and magicians, we move into a rather too polemical explanation of where we are at with the climate crisis and potential solutions, but then the script takes a turn for the better again with the realisation that there are, in fact, no magic solutions. It is a little too slow, and labours its points too heavily at times, but this is off-set by great costumes and a fabulous set (a wonderfully wonky wagon pulled through the streets to the performance site, where they are nicely framed by trees and bushes); some lovely live musical moments using keyboards and a great range of unusual percussion instruments; and some truly fabulous puppetry, as a copper coffee pot and dish become numerous characters met along the way by Burnhart and Pippa. It could certainly benefit from a bit of cutting and tweaking and mulching down, but on balance, the positive aspects of the piece – the strong visual imagery and physical presence, the musicality, the rapport with the audience – outweigh the down points.

Jolie Vyann: Timeless. Photo James Bass

Created under the auspices of the Without Walls consortium, and developed with the support of Out There Arts, Joli Yvann’s Timeless also tackles the big question of our day – the survival of our civilisation when the human race seems hell-bent on self-destruction. This time, in a piece using dance and acrobatics played out on a big structure – a giant egg-timer in which the four performers run like hamsters within, or clamber or dangle on the outside, exploring notions of ‘time, irreversibility and climate change’. Inevitably, the structure does eventually become an hourglass, a conduit for the sands of time trickling through. There is no going back! It is a word-free physical piece for the most part, although it incorporates spoken word in the form of recorded speeches by David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg integrated into the soundscape. The superb physical skills of the company are evident as they perform gasp-worthy moves on and round the revolving structure. But to be completely honest, I prefer the soft and fluid floorwork and acrobalance (the core of the company’s work) to those scenes on the big spinning contraption, which is a bit of a one-trick pony. Once we’ve seen people whizzing around inside it and hanging on the outside of it screaming whilst the winds howl (soundtrack winds, although the piece had to be transferred from the seafront to a town-centre plaza because of the real wind!), the novelty wears off a bit. I also find myself thinking whilst I watch that there is an irony to a show about environmental issues being so strongly tied to this cumbersome piece of kit that is subject to technical breakdowns, and no doubt takes a lot of energy to move around the country. But there is no denying the abilities of the four performers, the strength of the choreography, and the noble intentions of their vision for this piece.

Tripotes La Compagnie: Encore Une Fois. Photo Peter Morgan

Elsewhere in the festival there is circus a-plenty. Belgium’s Tripotes La Compagnie bring us Encore Une Fois, a three-person show ‘seesawing between reckless danger and perilous fragility’. The ‘reckless danger’ element is some truly stupendous teeterboard work. The ‘perilous fragility’ plays out in jokey hand-to-hand and acro sequences which embrace a healthy dose of physical clowning as the three performers push, pull and tease each other. The show is performed on a high stage, rather than at ground level with the audience up close, which means that the very slow build-up (with no soundtrack) gets a bit lost. I see the show twice and it is only on second viewing that I appreciate that very slow beginning, which involves much small-talk, and small-scale interaction with the audience, most of which I lost first time round, thinking something had gone wrong with the soundtrack!

The 2021 Out There Festival programme put the emphasis on British outdoor arts (for obvious reasons), and that worked very well. But it is great to see so many overseas companies back on the bill for 2022. Planned for both 2020 and 2021, and thwarted two years in a row, Argentina’s ManoAmano are finally back here at the Festival with the UK premiere of Kinematos, a piece about a desire to fly that is full of charm and humour, all hung (literally) around a core of fabulous Chinese pole work and daredevil climbing and balancing. There is a delightful rapport between the two performers (who are a couple in real life – but that doesn’t always automatically transfer to stage complicity!), with plenty of clowning moments adding zest to the pole work and acrobatic routines. Sassy costumes add to the spectacle, and there’s a  fantastic soundtrack – morphing from a Spanish version of King of the Road to a perky Charleston (danced to very skilfully, I was pleased to see), and then on to a Piazzolla tango that provides the impetus for a gorgeous pole double-act. A complete and satisfying show that takes the audience by storm – bravo!

ManoAmano: Kinematos. Photo James Bass

Italian clown and circus performer Margherita Mischitelli’s Amore Pony is a journey into the feminine which mixes balancing, Cyr wheel, clowning, and audience interaction – with, as seen on this occasion, varying degrees of success. It is all a little rocky, although to give her the benefit of the doubt, she has many elements conspiring against her. For a start, her pitch on the seafront is not ideal as the sea wind clearly interferes with her routines: a high-heel clad bottle-walk that should be one of the highlights of the show has to be aborted as she loses balance and falls off in the wind. Of course when the Festival programmed this and other work onto the seafront, they weren’t to know the weather would turn far more autumnal than it has been in previous years in mid-September. But this isn’t actually the main problem – audiences are very forgiving, and we could see she was struggling with the bottle-walk so gave her a big round of applause regardless. The key issue is her hesitancy in engaging fully with the audience due to language difficulties. Unlike ManoAmano, who use an engaging mix of English, Spanish and gobbledygook, Mischitelli insists on sticking to a faltering English, rather than riffing and improvising in her native Italian or a mix of languages, and thus comes across as lacking in confidence – for example, as she tries to get a team of men into colour-coded tabards in order to join her in a processional dance routine, which becomes a painfully slow process marred by odd pauses. I would have dearly loved to see her perform in Italian, as she is (I’m sure) a talented circus artist with some good ideas; this obscured by the problems of communication, site and weather.

Still with the hybrid circus, and also thwarted somewhat by the weather: Daisy Black’s Feral is an odd one – a mix of live and filmed aerial circus/dance and recorded spoken word text, exploring the notion of rewilding and working with the cycle of nature as we move through the year, from spring to summer to autumn to winter. The live performance section is at the beginning, and pretty short. I was assuming there would be a return to live action at the end, but no. The film is really beautiful, with words that play poetically with rhythm and repetition, and moving images that use a gorgeous palette of earth colours and tones to express mood in a painterly fashion; the solo performer seen engaging with the natural environment, hanging from trees (on silks or a Lyra hoop), walking barefoot through leaves, handling stones. But it is long, and difficult to watch at night in a cold park. Perhaps if the weather had been warmer, more of the audience would have stayed to the end, but as it was, many left. 

Farm Yard Circus. Photo James Bass

Also a circus show dealing with the natural world, albeit in a completely different way, is the homegrown Farm Yard Circus – presented by a company with the same name, an eight-strong ensemble (six acrobats, two musicians) who create a joyous melange of tumbling, juggling, and balancing. It’s a delight to watch the little girls in the audience gazing adoringly at the big girls in the show who, dressed in dungaree-shorts with hair pulled into rough bunches, stand shoulder-to-shoulder (literally) with the boys in the troupe, morphing from base to flyer, carrying and throwing with gusto. And the boys are pretty good, too! What is new and fresh and a great advert for the future of UK circus is the size of the ensemble, the range of skills, and the way this lot work together, with the six physical performers fighting fit and full of beans, the two musicians ably employing a range of instruments from banjo to drums and bells, the acrobats augmenting the music with turns on the accordion or percussion. A couple of moments feel a little derivative – some apple juggling sat on a row of chairs that is perhaps a nod to Gandini’s Smashed; some wheelbarrow-wielding and tractor tyre balancing that is a reminder of Cirque Alfonse’s Animal. But that’s a jaded old reviewer talking – when you’ve seen a lot, you’ll inevitably see echoes of other work in young companies. To the excited audiences of Great Yarmouth this is irrelevant – they certainly know a great street show when they see it and respond accordingly, showing their appreciation loudly and with great gusto.

Be Flat: Follow Me: Photo Marcin Rodwell

Back to the overseas companies: Belgian company Be Flat have a new take on circus, the duo of acrobats combining their skills in tumbling and balancing with a breathtaking demonstration of parkour in an aptly-named show called Follow Me, reworked for each new environment that the company present the work – in this case, in and around the Malakoff estate in Yarmouth, where the company were embedded for the week before the Festival, working with local residents on creating a route through the estate.

We start in an outdoor urban courtyard, a rather bleak asphalted space, fenced in by garages and brick walls bearing signs that say No Ball Games. In the centre of the courtyard are a pile of lightweight collapsible chairs – the type that people carry with them on hikes or to outdoor concerts. And yes, after some warm-up play on and round the chair-mountain, we are all issued with one, and whistled at with smiles of encouragement. So off we go – following our two performers, who take it in turns to lead the group whilst entertaining us by scrabbling up and over walls and railings, through gardens, and up and down trees. As we turn past the remains of the old city walls, the ante is upped as the two performers scale heights, walk along spiked railings with a sheer drop below, and create acrobalance poses in the most unlikely of places – at the top of an archway, say, or halfway up a wall like a pair of spidermen. 

But what of those chairs? We are instructed to wear them like little metal skirts, then form a processional line to dance along the street holding on to the person in front, each of two lines led off by one of the performers. Or we are wordlessly herded along a road and set up as two lines sitting in traverse, so that the two acrobats can take turns cartwheeling and flipping along between us; this turning into a lovely strip-the-willow type dance as we pair up and move along the soul train, waving our chairs in the air, to the applause of the rest of the group.

At another point in the show, we sit facing a block of flats and watch astonished as our fearless duo climb up walls and walk along window ledges, stopping to say a quick hello to a man and his dog who are out on their balcony; fetching a small ladder so they can get right up to roof level. That ladder takes on another role in a later scene, when it surprisingly becomes a flute, accompanying a Stomp-like percussive scene as poles, railings and walls get played. In the final scene, there’s a surprise third performer discovered, playing drums above a flat-roofed garage with a graffiti’d door. 

Such a wonderful show! The phenomenal physical skills, the use of site, the humour,  the tender care of the audience. It is especially good to see the groups of teenagers from Yarmouth really owning the show – and if they happened to come from the estate where it is staged, and have thus witnessed the creation process over the past week, proudly explaining key moments to their mates (‘Oh yeah, when they did this the other day there was a lady behind those curtains looking really surprised!’). In a weekend full of strong outdoor arts work, Follow Me is for me the very best of the fest. It’s the final show that I see in the streets on Sunday afternoon.

The African Choir of Norwich at The Drill House. Photo Marcin Rodwell

Follow Me sees the end of the outdoor programme, which finishes at 4pm to honour the needs of those who wish to mourn on the eve of the Queen’s funeral, or to attend a local vigil – but the fun isn’t done as we move indoors to The Drill House for the finale. The Festival goes out with a bang as we are treated to an indoor version of Chris Lynam’s anarchic clown show, The Beast of Theatre – in which he bares his bottom to a family audience, sets fire to the stage, and dresses a man from the audience in a tutu before smashing up his watch with a hammer. Good to see that age hasn’t mellowed him – the day Chris Lynam plays it safe is the day we know that it’s all over. 

As a gentle come-down, we have a lovely set from the African Choir of Norfolk, who give us a pan-African selection of tunes, taking us from Morocco in the north of the continent to South Africa, and plenty inbetween. The night ends with Festival Lounge DJ sets from El Diablo Rojo and Bmore McVowty, with poetry projections from Colossal Youth. Backstage, artists gather for a final meal together, and much Portuguese wine is drunk…

So, that’s it – another year done. It has clearly been a challenging one for the Festival’s directors and producers – just when you think everything’s getting back to normal, post pandemic, there’s the unsettling weather and a dying monarch to contend with. As artistic director Joe Mackintosh says at the opening of this year’s proceedings: ‘We’re now in a world that has change as its constant.’

Yet within the continuing turmoil, Out There Festival is proving to be, in Joe’s words again, ‘a small point of solidity’. We don’t know what next year will bring, but I’m betting that whatever it is, Joe Mackintosh, his co-director Veronica Stephens, and their fabulous production team will rise above it all and bring us another fantastic experience on the streets of Yarmouth.

Out There Festival 2022. Photo Peter Morgan

Featured image (top of page}: Be Flat: Follow Me sited on the Malakoff Estate Great Yarmouth for Out There Festival 2022. Photo Katherne Mager.

Out There Festival of Outdoor Arts & Circus took place 16–18 September 2022. 

Out There Festival, which recently presented its 14th edition, has established an international reputation for its exceptional, innovative and diverse programme. Regularly attracting more than 60,000 people to Great Yarmouth each year. Out There has built a national and international reputation for world-class artistic quality, new and diverse work, regional artistic talent, international collaboration and innovative community engagement. See 

Out There Arts, the producers of the Out There Festival, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council are presenting Fire on the Water – Beach Edition 22–29 October 2022,  sponsored by Visit Great Yarmouth, CPP – Freshly Greated and Interreg Experience. This year’s edition will take place on the golden sands of Great Yarmouth for a dynamic and dramatic outdoor experience featuring dance and acrobatic performances, light installations and night-time fire shows. For further details on this and other year-round activities see see

Banging a Drum for Out There Festival

A large-scale processional performance through the town centre from French maestros Les Commandos Percu, parkour from Belgium’s Be Flat, female clown Margherita Mischitelli from Italy, and plenty of new circus and street arts from across the UK and beyond. Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts in Great Yarmouth is back with a bang!

‘I’m most excited to have a full festival again,’ says artistic director Joe Mackintosh. 

Last year, the annual Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts did go ahead, and was a very successful event (read all about it here in Total Theatre Magazine’s round-up). But there were restrictions: only a very limited number of overseas companies were programmed, and the traditional Saturday night processional performance through the town didn’t happen.

‘It’s the thing people are most excited about,’ says executive director Veronica Stephens. ‘Everyone in Great Yarmouth loves the parade, which ends with a big spectacle. In the past, we’ve had Générik Vapeur and Transe Express – and this year we’ve got French percussion and pyrotechnics company Les Commandos Percu.’

The show in question is called Silence, perhaps ironically, and features a cacophony of drums with musical pyrotechnicians storming the streets: post-apocalyptic and rife with animalistic sound and raging fire… although it’s all about the moments of silence in between, say the company. The procession will move from St George’s Park, along the seafront, and end on the beach.

The festival have been in discussion with Great Yarmouth Borough Council about ways to prceed with this event in the light of the demise of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. They will now include a dedicated announcement and a two-minute silence within Silence as a tribute to the Queen, with the National Anthem sung at the end of the show in honour of the new king, Charles III – what Joe and Veronica describe as ‘the biggest tribute moment of the festival, a poignant and appropriate shared point of reflection’. Les Commandus themselves have been passionate about adapting and dedicating this special performance. It is the ideal vehicle for tribute, as it is being created with local people working with the company during this coming week and in the words of the company themselves: ‘This will be the most poignant Silence that we have ever performed – we will be honoured to make this tribute  with the community of Great Yarmouth and also as a token of the deep respect held for the Queen by the people of France.’

Vanhulle Dance Theatre: Dovetail

Silence is one of a number of shows using Great Yarmouth seafront this year. ‘It’s nice to be spreading out,’ says Joe, ‘making much more of the seafront and the beach. Last year was the first time we really used the beach – we had Gorilla Circus as the finale. This year, we’re extending it, putting more on there…’

Other shows scheduled for the seafront area in this year’s festival include Timeless by Joli Vyann, a dance-theatre piece set in and around an interesting revolving ‘egg timer’ structure, which is doing the Outdoor Arts rounds this year as part of the Without Walls consortium. 

This show was created at The Drill House, Joe says. Which is an opportunity to mention that Drill House is an arts centre and more: a creation centre that is Out There Arts’ year-round hub; supporting UK and overseas artists, providing making and rehearsing space for emerging and established artists alike. Another Out There Arts supported artist is locally-based Matthew Harrison.

‘We’re very pleased to be presenting the 100th outing of Actual Reality Arcade, which we supported from the start, and which has toured successfully across the country for a number of years,’ says Joe. ‘Matthew is a visual artist and a filmmaker, and we encouraged him to think big, to move his work up in scale,’ adds Veronica.  

The show is a lovely, tongue-in-cheek, real-time re-creation of some classic video games, which are given a fairground-inspired makeover: a ‘life-sized interactive game-zone for all ages, inspired by classic arcade games where you play for real’. Harrison has subsequently been commissioned by gaming companies to create additional models for other games. Last year, he also created a new work, Community Chest, which was presented at Out There Festival 2021. ‘His is a great local success story,’ says Veronica.

So other than those two, what else might we find on or near the beach in the 2022 festival?

‘There’s Vanhulle Dance Theatre,’ says Joe. ‘I’m interested to see how they are! The company is led by a Flemish performer new to the UK.  She was previously in Icarus, and this is her first appearance at Out There Festival with the new company.’ The show is called Dovetail, a UK premiere.

Be Flat: Follow Me. Photo: Janne-Pekka Manninen.

The other big drive for 2022 is the extension of Out There’s community engagement programme. Always a vital part of the organisation’s work – they are firmly committed to working with communities in meaningful ways – the 2021 programme saw the festival reaching out beyond the town of Yarmouth into the satellite towns and housing estates, where residents are traditionally less likely to be engaging in the arts. Last year there was an evening of events in Cobham, and additionally the involvement of young Cobham residents in Puppets With Guts’ Big Lips show as community dancers. This year will see a return to Cobham, but also a reach out into communities from the Magdalen Estate in Gorleston and Middlegate, Malakoff and Blackfriars Estates. This time round, a great number of Out There artists will be involved.

‘Les Commandos will be embedded in the community, recruiting and workshopping with drummers from the estates,’ says Veronica. All of this work will come together on the Saturday night for the big parade (although of course also having its own stand-alone merit within the communities worked in). 

‘Belgian companies Be Flat (parkour) and Tripotes La Compagnie (circus/teeterboard) are going to be doing animations in and around the estates in the week before the festival,’ she adds. ‘And we’ll hold tea parties in the estates in the run up to the festival.’  

Also involved in the outreach programme will be Toussaint to Move who will be presenting Beatmotion Mass, running dance workshops within the community, and integrating professional and community performers in work presented. Out There Arts will be working with Creative People and Places partners Freshly Greated on this extensive outreach programme.

‘Freshly Greated have the resources to really be on the ground,’ says Veronica. ‘We can bring in the artists, and they are there, making the connections. Creative people, creative communities – that’s the whole purpose. And we incorporate participants’ feedback into the work, which is good for the festival…’

Spitz and Co: Blue Hawaii

Joe also flags up another area the festival is working in and on, in the town centre:

‘We’re putting interventions and small shows on Regent Road – we  have done stuff there in the past, but we’re making more of it this year.’

For those who don’t know Yarmouth, Regent Road is an oddly old-fashioned pedestrianised street that specialises in gift shops, unintentionally retro cafes and sweet shops, and (oddly) Elvis memorabilia.

‘It has a flow of people, but unlike the people in the park, they won’t be self-identified festival go-ers!’ says Joe. 

So, Jon Hicks will be there in his prophesier persona, The Visionary, he of ‘fantastical wisdom and mystical powers from beyond knowledge’. He will possibly be convincing some people that he is, as Joe puts is, ‘a genuinely strange preacher who has just rocked up in Yarmouth’. Predictions, illusions, proclamations and panic will abound. 

There will also be a number of musical acts along Regent Road, including the legendary Dutch glass-player Roger Kappers with The Glass Grinder, and Japanese one-man-band Ichi.

Oh, and talking of Elvis, the new Spitz and Co show Blue Hawaii features an extremely good Elvis impersonator, I’m told…

There’s also an interesting new venture from Working Boys Club called Serving Sounds, which is ‘a multi-sensory sound installation that serves bass rather than beer’ and will be appearing at pubs around Yarmouth over the festival weekend. It’s led by Jason Dupree from Living Room Circus – but is a very different kettle of fish, allowing Jason to step aside (for a while) from experimental circus-theatre to reflect on and explore his own working-class roots. 

Margherita Mitischelli: Amore Pony

Meanwhile, over at St George’s Park, and on the streets in and around it, we are likely to find an eclectic mix of top-quality circus and street arts companies and artists. 

This year’s programme includes slackrope performer Pete Sweet’s new show Foolish Doom, presented under the company name Tiny Colossus, which Joe describes as ‘ a big departure – a two-hander, a costumed puppetry-mask show about climate change that has been developed at The Drill House. I’ve seen bits of it, but not the full show…’ 

Joe also flags up Margherita Mitischelli: ‘A very good solo woman clown/circus performer. There are far fewer women than men street performers – she is pretty brilliant and not well known in the UK.’ Her show Amore Pony promises a journey of discovery of the feminine spirit, between ‘fairytale suggestions and grotesque implication’ – expect unstable equilibriums and talking mini ponies! 

Then, there’s Butoh dance company Cie De Ta Soeur, whose Monta Tanto draws on folklore and popular culture, inviting us to return to ‘a playful nature, wonderful diversity and the essential’. Expect the primordial and other worldly. 

‘Good to be going back to having some odd stuff, ‘ says Joe, ‘It’s so strong and so different. Audiences might be puzzled, but they’ll remember it!’

Ishariah Johnson aka Stormskater

He’s also pleased to be programming Ishariah Johnson, aka Stormskater – one of the UK”s best known inline skaters – an online sensation who posts videos of herself skating in public spaces in London, but who has never (as yet) done a show in a street theatre festival ‘We’re a bit nervous about it,’ says Joe ‘but this is us making the effort to find new talent; to reach across to people outside of the usual outdoor arts circuit and say “have you thought about…”’

Another interesting addition to the programme is Qwerin, a Welsh company who combine traditional and contemporary dance, all with a queer sensibility.

This brings us neatly to reflect on another new initiative for Out There Arts, the Four Nations Partnership which sees the organisation (representing England) working with Surge (Scotland), Spraoi Festival in Waterford (Ireland), and Articulture (Wales) to bring a number of emerging artists/companies from all nations of the British and Irish isles not only to Out There Festival but to other festivals across the UK and Ireland. One of the English components of this group are Beside Ourselves Collective with their new show, The Roving Court – a new, interactive, pop-up street theatre show in which a Judge on a mobile bench tries adults for their childhood crimes, a barrister seeks to defend them ,and children form a Jury to help the Judge hand down comedic punishments.

Another interesting young British company appearing at Out There 2022 are Farm Yard Circus, whose eponymous show promises to ‘bring the cows home with old-time tunes and raucous rhythms, and a juggling suite composed of hay bales, wheelbarrows, a tractor tyre, and even an old scarecrow’.

They are mostly graduates of the National Centre for Circus Arts (formerly Circus Space) or Circomedia. Joe sings their praises thus: ‘There are seven of them, and with a nice mix of skills and disciplines. We were keen to support them as this is the sort of circus show we struggle to find in the UK – with this scale and a decent range of skills. There are very few of them. I can name 20 companies of this sort from Flanders!’

Farm Yard Circus

At the other end of the experience spectrum are a number of veteran artists included in the programme. Chris Lynam, the infamous iconoclastic clown ,brings The Beast of Theatre to the festival, promising ‘indescribably wild and wondrous physical comedy’.

Will he have a firework up his bottom, I want to know. Veronica replies that she doesn’t know, but there’s a good possibility that he will ‘get his willy out’. You have been warned.

‘It’s great to have the balance of fresh new talent alongside that core of amazing, really experienced street performers,’ says Veronica.

Talking of which,  Akustrik, led by longstanding street theatre favourite Ali Houiellebecq, are bringing D.o.G (Department of Gruff) to Out There – an all-singing all-playing comedy pastiche band in complete dog regalia. We are invited to ‘howl along to well-loved tunes dished up by this pack of versatile mutts as they ramble and shamble along the streets of Great Yarmouth.’ They will also be taking part in the opening night Party in the Park on Friday eve.

Then, there’s Sarah Munro, another ‘veteran’ – former co-director of the late great Insect Circus. She’ll be premiering her new installation, Miss O’ Genie’s Dazzling Dollirama, in which Miss O’Genie and her Damnable Dolls present an alternative approach to a coconut shy, giving us a chance to throw things at famous misogynists. 

So there we are – a veritable cornucopia of festival goodies all lined up and ready for the off.

‘There’s serious stuff, funny stuff; brand-new stuff, old-school stuff,’ says Joe in conclusion. ‘Something for everyone!’

Sarah Munro: Miss O’ Genie’s Dazzling Dollirama

Featured image (top of page): Les Commandos Percu: Silence. Photo Veronique Balege

Out There International Festival of Outdoor Arts & Circus takes place Friday 16 – Sunday 18 September 2022 in Great Yarmouth. For the full programme, and further information on the artists taking part, see  

The festival includes a day for professional artists, producers and presenters. Catch Up takes place on Friday daytime and there are also workshops, an Artists Marketplace, pitching sessions, and networking opportunities on Saturday and Sunday mornings. 

Total Theatre Magazine will be presenting a session on Saturday morning called Total Theatre Talks: Stop Press! An informal workshop for artists, producers and anybody else interested in reflecting on writing about outdoor arts & circus, and on ways of publicising work.

For more information and to register for the professional programme, see 

I, Object

Living in a material world: not-so-inanimate objects are the stars of many Edinburgh Fringe 2022 shows – as witnessed by Dorothy Max Prior in Materia, Megalith, Every Word Was Once an Animal, The Smile off Your Face, Closing Party, and A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

We are in the Old Lab at Summerhall at 10.15am. Somehow, this feels completely appropriate, for what we are about to witness turns out to be as much a demonstration of practical physics and engineering skills as an art show – although all is done with the utmost artfulness. A calm and serious looking young man kneels onstage, leaning over an electric fan which has been placed on its side. He is feeding polystyrene balls into the wind current created by the fan and they move around in a circle, jostle each other, and eventually (for some, anyway) get edged out and on to the floor. He steps away, and over to a sheet of polystyrene, which is stacked between two fans which counterbalance each other and keep it upright. This is just the start. Later, there are all sorts of complicated games involving carved or shredded polystyrene, multiple electric fans, and a monochrome lighting plan that plays with the extremities of light and dark, as shadows are cast and strobes highlight the mechanised action.

This is Materia, a show by Andrea Salustri produced by the legendary Aurora Nova. It is described as ‘a choreography for several polystyrene shapes and one human’ – which is a pretty accurate summary. What starts as a straight forward ‘human manipulates object’ scenario evolves into a situation where the objects seem to be calling the shots. Creativity and destruction are balanced out – and there’s plenty of gentle humour too, as we (inevitably) anthropomorphise these polystyrene constructions and create narratives of our own. Here, a mechanical creature asserting its right to survive; there, a tide ebbing and flowing. The final stage picture gives us a grouping of around six automata all firing on full cylinders, accompanied by a great ‘industrial’ soundtrack. It is a truly novel example of brilliant object theatre. And in case you’re wondering what happens to all this shredded polystyrene, Andrea (speaking for the first and only time in the hour) reassures us that it is all taken back to Berlin and fed to plastic-eating worms. I kid you not.

Over at Zoo Southside,Mechanimal’s Megalith promises – and delivers, ‘rocks, beats, geological bodies and stone circles’. A performer and sound artist (accompanied by two technicians also brought into the stage action) ‘playfully duet to deep-time techno, metamorphic soundscapes and the Internet of Things’.

It starts with the onstage team fiddling and doodling with sounds and images, seemingly failing to get the show started. There are recurrent ‘failed to connect’ to the Internet and timed-out warnings. ’We seem to be having some problems here,’ says the sound artist. It’s only later I twig the relevance of this announcement coming from the stage, rather than from a front-of-house person or usher. After 10 or 15 minutes, the auditorium has finally quietened down, as one group of people after another realise that the show is, in fact, already underway. 

At the core of Megalith is an exploration of our crucial relationship to rock, and the part mining has played in our evolution. Every piece of technology we own has come from rock. And copper mining has fuelled the growth of human civilisation for the last 10,000 years. The trajectory of mining and technological development, and where we are at now in the 21st century, is explored – but not through a performance-lecture or other polemical info-driven means. Instead, the ideas are explored poetically: through the juxtaposing of visual imagery, with excellent projections / visual design from award-winning Limbic Cinema; through object manipulation (there are some very lovely stone balances created live); through physical action, as the performer moves through the space, in interaction with the stones, exploring the line-into-circle form at the heart of neolithic constructions such as Stonehenge; and through the excellent soundscape that moves easily from lyrical to industrial, employing everything from found sound to Tibetan bowls to hardcore electronics.

There is also an awful lot of noise and mess as each show involves smashing up to 250kg of rocks live on stage. I love every minute – it is so good to see (and hear) a show with a serious scientific and socio-political message at its heart tell its stories through visual, physical and musical means. A truly smashing show!

Also at Zoo Southside – following on from Megalith and their stage mess, which must be a bit daunting, are Belgian contemporary theatre makers extraordinaire Ontroerend Goed with Every Word Was Once an Animal. Which is not an object theatre show, it is a show about the nature of theatre, about illusion and reality, about openings and closings. But it is a show in which those most theatrical of material objects – curtains! – play a crucial role, being both the central metaphor of the show, and its key scenographic motif. 

The show starts when a person comes on stage, walks to the microphone, and talks. Except it hasn’t started, apparently – it’s about to happen. In just the same way as the Covid pandemic had us stopping and starting, opening and closing, the ensemble of six actors lay out this ‘starting and not-starting’ game until every drop that can has been milked from it. Then, there is the anticipation of the ‘curtain scene’. Lovely swishy red curtains dance, seemingly self-automated, from left to right and right to left, to the strains of Monteverdi. Is this the curtain scene? Apparently not. An actor wheels out a squeaky little trolley bearing a model theatre atop and starts to describe the curtain scene – but no, here comes the curtain scene for real! Later in the show, the luxurious red curtains give away to a plain white tulle which moves aside to reveal a screen. On the screen, images (seemingly still photographs, until we look closely) of views from a series of city or suburban windows (perhaps filmed from the homes of Ontroerend Goed company members or associates during the pandemic?). All is still, all is quiet, There is very little movement. The human world is – inanimate, for the most part. Every Word Was Once an Animal is a visually beautiful show that is a clever exploration on the process of theatre-making and the impact of the pandemic on theatre-makers.

Over at C Venues, Ontroerend Goed have another show. A Smile off Your Face, an immersive one-to-one, was the company’s first big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2008, winning a Total Theatre Award amongst other accolades. Now they’ve relaunched it in collaboration with the KASK School of Arts (Belgium). Basically, handing over the script to these young people and saying: how would you re-stage it? 

It is a piece in which relationship to the material world is also key – although in a very different way to Every Word Was Once an Animal, which has visual scenography as such a crucial element. In A Smile off Your Face, the sense of sight is taken away (for the most part). The audience member is blindfolded and placed in a wheelchair with hands tied. What happens next is a kind of arty ghost train ride. There are footsteps and voices, sounds in the distance and sounds close by. There are things to touch – and things that touch. There are things to taste. There are conversations to be had – with just two crucial visual scenes at the end. To say more would be to spoil the experience. Just to say that that the KASAK students have done a fine job of updating this seminal show, giving it a 2022 twist or two, whilst preserving the essence and authenticity of the original piece. I certainly felt safe in their hands – with just the right amount of occasional edginess.


At Dance Base, Closing Party (arrivederci e grazie) is a dance/physical theatre work in which the relationship between the performers – a pair of fifty-somethings ‘depicting the ups-and-downs of middle age, recasting completion and exhaustion as potential new beginnings’ – is played out through their physical interactions and through the objects they each, and both, engage with. Carnival afro-wigs, a tawdry sparkly headdress, potted plants, wine glasses, a goldfish in a bowl (not a real one!), white feathers, black tutus, not to mention the portable rack all their objects hang from in tote bags… It is all ‘baggage’ that comes with its own baggage. Plus, there are three screens, a large whole-back-wall projection, a TV monitor, and a small tablet played in ‘portrait’ mode on the floor, adding to the visual feast. To the tune of Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ and Marianne Faithful’s ‘Broken English’, plus a bit of Ravel and Grieg here and there, the pair – one man, one woman, dressed similarly in plain black suits and shoes – pose and piggy-back, strut and lunge and fireman-lift each other, summoning the spirits of the androgynous hero(ine) Jeanne d’Arc, Jungle Book star Mowgli, and numerous film stars. All is fleeting, all is both meaningful and meaningless. Such is life. And still we party!

Closing Party is produced by Whooshing Machine, the third in the Memory Trilogy of shows created by Alessandro Bernardeschi and Mauro Paccagnella which included the Total Theatre Award-winning Happy Hour, and it is performed by Alessandro Bernardeschi and Carlotta Sagna (with one surprise extra performer).It is a colourful smorgasbord of a show, a constantly shifting landscape of bodies, objects, and moving or still screen images. A feast for the eyes, and a feast for the soul.

Finally, it’s back to Summerhall for another early morning show – this time, the family-friendly A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, directed by Irish theatre-maker Dan Colley, and winner of Best Design at Dublin Fringe Festival 2019. 

Two performers, one man and one woman, in a theatricalised version of storyteller mode. An old kitchen table, used – yes! – for tabletop puppetry. A screen at the rear of the stage made of vertically cut ribbons of material. A microphone and a looping machine. And a cabinet of curiosities, featuring tiny dolls and bottles and little figures made from paper-cuts and matchboxes and pipe-cleaners and corks. 

The Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ short story with ‘no lesson to learn, so don’t you be looking for one’ is told here with feisty good humour and a more-than-able array of theatre skills. And it’s a theatre piece that reminds us constantly that this is a construct: the two constantly nudge each other, finish sentences, and tell each other what comes next, and how it should be played. 

Here’s the basic story: one night – after the endless rain has stopped, the crabs have gone back to the sea, and the baby has finally got over his fever – a young couple called Pelayo and Elisenda come across a fallen angel, the eponymous Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, who they put temporarily in their chicken coop, although this decision gets extended as their worry for his well-being turns to downright exploitation as they start charging visitors to gawp and selling mementoes…

All this is told very well by our two performers (Karen McCartney and Manus Halligan) who riff off of each other as they adopt childish personas (that never turn to parody) of the bossy and bragging one, and the shy one who tries hard to please her. Verbal storytelling is enhanced by classic ‘poor theatre’ techniques (a rolled-up jumper becomes the baby), combined with simple puppeteering, the tiny figures on the table growing large onscreen through the use of live-feed video camera. Foley sound effects are looped to give us wind and rain. There are songs, too (from her) and some good word-free acting and object manipulation (from him). Having scattered feathers around the little figure on the table, he then turns the camera on himself and becomes a worryingly anguished old man locked in with the chickens and left to fester.

It’s hard not to be reminded of the classic Kneehigh/Little Angel Theatre puppetry/physical theatre version of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings  – but this more recent take holds its own very nicely. Great to see work made for young people of such high quality.

For show dates and times and further information on all shows, see

Circus, Circus! Edinburgh Festivals 2022

Small gods, humans, animals and a brave space. Dorothy Max Prior samples  some of the many circus shows on offer at the Edinburgh Festivals 2022

Over the past decade, circus has become an increasingly important part of the Edinburgh Fringe, with key venues such as Underbelly and Assembly making space for some of the world’s top companies. I’d like to think that the attention given to circus by the Total Theatre Awards might also have helped to push things forward! 

In 2015, the ante was upped with the creation of Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows – the first major Ed Fringe venue dedicated exclusively to circus and cabaret. Circus Hub is made up of the Lafayette (a 550-seat big top) and The Beauty (a 500-seat spiegeltent). In case you’re wondering, the spaces are named after one of the world’s most famous circus performers and illusionists – The Great Lafayette and his dog Beauty, who both died in Edinburgh in 1911. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the advantage of having circus-dedicated spaces is that there are, one would hope, fewer issues with rigging and get-ins. Having previously produced shows incorporating aerial at the Fringe, I can personally testify that dealing with venues not usually set up for circus work is an absolute pain. Circus Hub sensibly alternate shows between their two venues, allowing for a decent amount of time (by Ed Fringe standards, anyway – sometimes a whole hour, for goodness sake!) for get-ins.

Of course there’s been a bit of a gap due to a certain global pandemic, but this year saw the return of the Edinburgh Fringe to its usual boisterousness, and it was a delight to see a whole host of great circus shows – at Circus Hub and other venues – ranging from the family-friendly feel-good shows through to the experimental edge where circus meets live art. Something for everyone, then.

Circus Abyssinia: Tulu

At the feel-good end of the spectrum, Circus Abyssinia are always a pretty safe bet for a fun-for-all-the-family outing. Here, they present their most recent show Tulu, which is inspired by Ethiopian athlete and icon, the long-distance runner Derartu Tulu. The show starts with a run around the space and the voice of a sports commentator celebrating her achievement (she was the first Ethiopian woman and the first African woman to win an Olympic gold medal). The theme is picked up on now and again as the show progresses – we get a nice image of the Olympic five-ring emblem that prefaces a great hoop-tumbling act, a bit of flag-waiving and parading, and the lead five acrobats’ costumes reference the Ethiopian kit. Oh, and a fire juggling scene that starts with a flaming torch run and handover/lighting moment. But not everything can be forced to fit the theme, so we also have some lovely contortion by two young women dressed as cheetahs (OK, fastest land animals so maybe on-theme after all!); an old-school, but good with it, rollerskating double; some great all-female acrobalance/hand-to-hand; an extraordinarily good male hand-balancer, who later does a gorgeously controlled straps act, featuring a perfect box-split held totally still for what seems like an impossible amount of time; and a fabulous Russian Swing finale that brings the house down. All delivered to a great Ethiopian/African soundtrack that moves from folkloric to rock to jazz, and often a magical blend of all three modes. 

Cirque Alfonse: Animal

Also in feel-good mode, but with a little more edginess, comes Cirque Alfonse with Animal. So we’re talking farm animals here, not circus animals. And this is not a sentimental trip to the petting farm, it’s a feisty grown-up take on farm life – I saw a couple of small children  getting pretty worried about the references to the abattoir, and the general loud boisterousness of it all was too much for some of the little ones. But the venue/company clearly give the age recommendation as 12+ so what can you do if people ignore the guidance? As ever, the Alfonse team of butch beardy men and athletic women give us a breathtaking display of physical skills – all aided and abetted brilliantly by the musicians with their fantastic mulch of rock and roll and Quebecois folk. And some of the acrobats sing and play, too – so there’s a constant changing roster of instrumentation as drum kit, guitar, bass, keyboards, trumpet and musical spoons all come into play. Plus, clog dancing!

So what do we get, circus-wise? Lots, and it’s all somehow weaved into the farm theme. We have object manipulation – pitchforks and buckets-of-grain and milk churns are juggled and rolled and tossed. We have hand-balancing (those milk churns put to use again). We have teeterboard (of course we do, it’s Cirque Alfonse!) incorporating big plastic pigs and chunky tyres; and we have wheelbarrow races. Then, there’s the egg balancing, and the singing and dancing plastic chickens. There’s a ridiculously silly big dancing cow, and a tossing of the giant cowbells act. And we have a phenomenal bucking bronco finale on a big bull. Weaving through all this is a great clown character, a Granddad farmer with a gristly white beard and dungarees who stomps and sings and rides his tractor through the onstage mayhem. It looks rough and ready, but is meticulously designed and executed. Good, dirty fun – a fabulously raunchy display of circus skills, physical theatre, and music from a brilliant ensemble. 

Circa: Humans 2.0

Following on from Animal is a show that couldn’t be more different, aesthetically and in the type of skills employed. Australian company Circa are back with Humans 2.0 – an evolution of the show Humans that has played twice previously at Circus Hub. But each new incarnation of the show is its own thing,  exploiting the specific physicality and skills of whoever is in the ensemble at the time. The design is pure and simple, relying on a strong music score and excellent lighting to provide all that’s needed by way of the scenography. There is no set or props – just a white dancefloor making a circle. Sometimes there are lightning flashes, and sometimes the circle is lit red. There’s nothing to interfere with the fact that it’s all about the human bodies in the space – an ensemble of ten who work all together or in small groups, with the very occasional solo moment. Circa’s artistic director, Yaron Lifschitz, has said that he created Humans 2.0 to capture the challenge of being human. The show explores ideas around trust, support, balance, and collaboration: bodies are tossed to each other at phenomenal speed, three-person towers rise and fall effortlessly, women and men base other women and men as if lifting feathers – from standing, or lying, or kneeling, or (provoking gasps of astonishment from the audience) from bridge position. In a moment exploring risk in a way that the audience can identify with – much of the time, the action is so swift and perfectly executed we don’t see the risk – an acrobat leaps in the air, seemingly expecting to be caught, but instead hits the floor. Circa can afford to play these sorts of games – their level of skill and brilliantly timed execution of everything they do is so very high. A breathtakingly beautiful show I could watch a hundred times.

Aloft Circus Arts: Brave Space

All of the above are performed in The Lafayette tent. Over in The Beauty spiegeltent, there’s a very lovely morning show that is very different to anything else on at the Hub or elsewhere in the Fringe. Brave Space is brought to us by the all-female Chicago-based Aloft Circus Arts company. Each show is for a maximum audience capacity of 100 – and this is because they create a space within the space, building a safe haven from scaff poles and white parachute silk, a constantly-evolving structure that morphs from womb to enormous hooped skirt to secret den to circus tent. The performers move along and around and under the structure, creating gorgeous shadow images from within, or outside the structure walking along horizontal metal poles, and dancing and spinning on vertical poles. The audience start out watching, but get drawn into the action. First it’s making a big circle, and a lift of the parachute silk – Girl Guide style – in a great big whoosh. Then, we are asked to put the cloth over our heads, and crawl underneath. Join in now or miss the rest of the show, our ‘ring-mistress’ calls out to those on the edge hesitating. Chairs are brought for those less able to stand or site on the floor. The tent grows around us. Now, with everyone inside, volunteers are gently brought in to the action, to hold poles or ropes or hoops. We are just inches from the performers as they twirl their hoops or juggle or climb and balance. in one extraordinary moment, we are invited to lie down under the trapeze to watch the aerial action with a worm’s eye view. Health and safety be damned! A warm and wonderful show, bringing some real beauty to The Beauty.

Circa: Carnival of the Animals

Elsewhere, there is circus aplenty. 

New venue The House of Oz (at Kings Hall, which has a lovely garden set up as ‘the outback’ with colourful decorations and comfy cushions) plays host to the second Circa show at this Edinburgh Fringe – their production for children, Carnival of the Animals. Here we have a very different sort of animal to the Cirque Alfonse variety. Our team of acrobats, sporting vintage vaudevillian costumes and red noses, give us a gentle run through the animal kingdom. Using simple props like silks, different sized boxes and trunks, balloons and hula hoops – and with projected animations of cityscapes, savannahs, and underwater scenes providing the scenery – we meet and enjoy swift-swimming shoals of fish, playful penguins, trumpeting elephants, jumping frogs, and delicately floating butterflies. The circus skills are what we would expect from Circa: top notch, that is. No playing down to the children: they get the top-level tumbling and balancing and the triple towers. But all done with gentle ease, at a pace suitable for very little ones, with more than enough to interest the parents, and never any patronising of the kids or playing over their heads to the adults. It is so, so good to see children’s work of this quality.

Sadiq Ali: The Chosen Haram

Over at Summerhall, two very different shows using circus skills in the service of experimental physical storytelling. Performed on two Chinese poles – plus a falling-apart sofa, some bottles, and rather a lot of sticky plastic – queer circus show The Chosen Haram deals with themes around sexuality, faith, addiction and connection. Lead artist/performer Sadiq Ali was born and raised in Edinburgh – and so at the show’s conclusion shares his delight with being on home territory, at the Edinburgh Fringe, and part of the Made in Scotland showcase. The Chosen Haram tells the story of two gay men and their chance meeting through a dating app. We get a breathtaking display of Chinese pole skills, some pretty sound physical acting, and a dash of high-energy disco dancing as the story moves from solo portraits of each man, their first sexual encounter (brought to us with tenderness and humour), further meetings, experiments with S&M, and outings to clubs. The show is full of strong scenes, and is performed with great skill and sensibility, but it feels like it needs a little more work on the structure. I really enjoy the show, and we have a fantastic introduction and set up, and some very strong scenes, but I feel set adrift a little after an ending which seems to suddenly just happen out of the blue.

Zinnia Oberski: Dreams of the Small Gods

Dreams of the Small Gods is also at Summerhall, in the small and intimate Demonstration Room (The Chosen Haram plays in the main hall). This mesmerising solo is devised and performed by Zinnia Oberski and directed by Ellie Dubois. The performance tells the story of the awakening of the Wild Woman and her meeting with a horned creature from the otherworld. We first meet the Woman naked and upside down on a trapeze, her hair hanging down. As she slowly writhes and turns, her body is exposed but her face is always obscured by her hair. This is the Wild Woman in her primitive, animal-like state. This first section lasts around 15 minutes and involves minimal but effective movement, to a soundscape of gentle rustlings and whistlings. It may well be the slowest and quietest 15 minutes I’ve ever experienced in a show at the Edinburgh Fringe – and that is no bad thing. There’s a change in mood as the Woman tosses her hair back and sits on the trapeze, gently rocking and observing us calmly – then jumping down onto the earthy floor, and taking obvious pleasure in rolling in the dirt. Another change as a new element comes into the space – a fabulous (in both senses of the word) horned mask descends from on high, looking out at us eerily through the mist. A totem. A fetish. A Pagan god. Does she take on the mask, or does the mask absorb her, to make her the horned creature? Whatever way round we view it, the physical action is carefully choreographed, and the visual images created are stunning. A total gem of a show – so very different to most circus work, so meditative, so clear and confident in its dramaturgy and execution.

Cirk La Putyka: Boom!

Over at the vast McEwan Hall, a very different show, one of two at this year’s Fringe from renowned Czech company Cirk La Putyka Whist the company’s established artists perform Runners at Zoo Southside, the company’s ‘young bloods’ can be found at this much more imposing space. 

Boom! is a collaboration between Cirk La Putyka and Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Art. A few days after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, young circus students from Kyiv came to Cirk La Putyka in Prague. Together, these 16 or so Gen Z circus artists have made a show about freedom, friendship and borders. It’s all a bit messy, but that’s OK. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink show. There’s a raid-the-dressing-up-box approach to costume with baggy neon hoodies and trainers and sports bras and national costume from both countries and flowery maxi-dresses and fuchsia tutus and big bubble-heads all in the mix. There’s plenty of high-energy dance, including a nice take on Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’. There are words too: in at least three languages, using the now-familiar on-mic confessional motif first brought to us by 7 Doigts in Traces, as childhood memories are shared and hopes and fears and dreams are expressed. In one of the many poignant moments, we learn that both countries have a tradition of offering bread and salt to strangers – leading to an onstage breaking and sharing of the bread. 

As for the physical action: there’s lots of lovely duets including a very good aerial straps routine, paired with a breakdancing boy at floor level; a clever combo of Cyr wheel and hula hoop; and a classic boy-girl acrobalance/hand-to-hand duet. We get a cabaret-style Lyra/hoop act in high heels, and some good strong Chinese pole. And there’s a juggling act that ends in a snowball fight, reminding us that these young performers are not so far away from childhood. This all accompanied by an onstage musician playing a mix of digital sounds and live guitar and keyboards.  A bright and breezy show full of teenage energy and – despite the dire circumstances that brought them together – joy and lust for life.

Gravity & Other Myths with the National Youth Choir of Scotland: Pulse.. Photo Andrew Perry

An even bigger ensemble of acrobats can be found at the Edinburgh International Festival at Gravity and Other Myths’ The Pulse. To say first of all: how odd it feels to see this company on at the EIF – they seem such stalwarts of the Fringe! But during that Covid pandemic, they got themselves some proper funding and knuckled down to make an ambitious large-scale show – without knowing when, if ever, they would be performing it. The gamble – led by company director Darcy Grant, together with designer Geoff Cobham and composer Ekrem Eli Phoenix – paid off, and here they are at the Edinburgh Playhouse: 30 of them, teamed with the same number of singers from the National Youth Choir of Scotland. This same enormous team also appeared, with extra dancers and musicians, at the EIF opening event, Macro, held at the massive BT Murrayfield stadium. But as the circus content of both events is essentially the same, I’ll focus on The Pulse.

Mathematics rules here! Sequences, sets and patterns are a key element. Whilst the singers chant ‘one two, one two three, one two three four…’ the acrobats assemble in groupings of two or three or four. In another motif running through the piece, we see human bodies as architecture: skylines of silhouetted bodies, towers that rise and fall. And my goodness, it’s very exciting to see four-high human towers! There is plenty of humour and pizazz  – a comic take on ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ sees the ensemble ‘playing’ each other by jumping on prone bodies, eliciting a scale of howls and groans. But there are also many gentle moments. There’s a poignant ‘meeting the other face on’ scene that uses the classic physical theatre hero/chorus technique well, as a solo acrobat performs to and around the choir, then a solo singer performs to a wall of acrobats. There a few scenes that don’t quite work – a long drawn out house-lights-on race through the audience to pull out ropes into a spider web seems like too much effort for the outcome; and there’s one scene that might have worked better if placed earlier – a switch to electronic music with pulsing red light traversing the stage feels out of place so close to the end as it shifts the mood oddly. But these quibbles aside, this is a brave and bold step up for Gravity and Other Myths, and as I saw it on my last evening in the Burgh, a fitting end to my 2022 Edinburgh Festivals experience.

Featured image (top): Gravity and Other Myths: The Pulse at Edinburgh International Festival. Photo Andrew Perry.

For more information and bookings for all Edinburgh Fringe shows, see 

For Gravity and Other Myths: Pulse at the Edinburgh International Festival, see     

The Honest Truth

Black Sheep, Head Set, Musclebound, and Boy: Four very different shows at the Edinburgh Fringe 2022, from autobiographical solos to docu-theatre, that explore identity and tell true-life stories – as witnessed by Dorothy Max Prior 

A Black woman in a boldly patterned dress is sweeping the floor, moving a psychedelic carpet of orange and pink leaves and petals to one side of the space. She bangs a drum, calling out: What are you? Mulatto? Half-caste? What are you? In a different moment, the woman is manipulating a pair of large feathery wings in a seductive fan dance. And in yet another moment, she stands nearly nude, dressed in a flesh-coloured bodysuit and adorned with sticky labels which she peels off and reads out. Each word affirms an aspect of her identity: Black, queer, rainbow, public, private, magnificent… Later in the show, she roller-skates across the stage, handing out ‘Black Lives Matter’ placards for audience members to hold up.

This is Livia Kojo Alour, better known as MisSa Blue, the world-renowned sword-swallower and burlesque/circus performer. All of these splendid images, and many more, flag up different aspects of her-self. Black Sheep, her first solo theatre show, is an exploration of her personal and cultural identity, blending autobiography with a call-to-arms to the audience to ‘Check Your Privilege’ (another of the placards). And indeed, looking around, the vast majority of the audience is, like me, white… 

Livia was raised in a safe and secure home in Germany by a white mother, with a grandmother who loved her dearly, but was a former supporter of the Nazi party. Well, plenty of material there to play with! Her relationship with her mother is complex – explored in a lovely, classic physical theatre moment using a coat hanging on a stand and one red glove, the objects animated to create a moving picture of an embracing mother and daughter. They love each other, but Livia feels the need to move on; to create a life in which her Black, queer identity can find its voice. 

Black Sheep gives Livia, as a poet and writer, the opportunity to combine her talent for physical performance with her carefully-crafted words, the resulting show an excellent blend of powerful visual images, great poetic text (these poems to be gathered in a collection coming out later this year), and song, as she reworks cabaret classics such as ‘I Put a Spell on You’ – delivered to us as ‘They Put a Spell on Me’, which follows a declaration, repeated throughout the piece, that ‘White people don’t love me for who I am but for who they want me to be’. 

Black Sheep, seen in preview the day before the official opening of the Edinburgh Fringe 2022, is one of a number of shows at this year’s Fringe that explore personal identity. Of course, one-person autobiographical shows are a staple of the Fringe – but it is good to see work like this that takes the form beyond the regular autobiographical-confessional mode into new territories. Livia Kojo Alour has been mentored by Marisa Carnesky, whose Showwomen she recently appeared in, and Black Sheep is a similarly sassy blend of cabaret, circus and performance art skills, proving that political theatre needn’t be dull and dirgy. Bravo!

Livia Kojo Aloura: Black Sheep

Another interesting take on the one-person show is Victoria Melody’s Head Set, which looks partly inwards (literally in this case, as she reflects on the workings of her brain, having been recently diagnosed as neurodivergent) and partly outwards at the goings on within a particular specialist community. At the beginning of the show, Victoria gives a brief summary, for those who don’t know her work, of her usual process – which is to embed herself into a world she is unfamiliar with and explore it thoroughly, often over many years, before making a show about it. In the past, she’s been a pigeon-fancier, a Northern Soul dancer, a beauty contestant, and (with the late lamented Major Tom, a handsome basset hound) a championship dog handler.

Now, she’s exploring stand-up comedy. Which she does, naturally, by adopting a stand-up comedian version of Victoria who riffs throughout the show on how hard it is to be a stand-up comedian. As is the norm in stand-up, she’s presenting carefully scripted material that gives the impression of being off-the-cuff – mixed in with actual off-the-cuff responses to the live room. So yes, as she points out herself, with a derogatory ‘fuck off’ added, what we  have here is a stand-up comedy show embedded within a theatre show – meta-theatre, innit! Or perhaps it’s performance art, who knows? Whatever it is, it works brilliantly on many different levels. You could take it as a regular Edinburgh comedy show and enjoy it as that, or your could enjoy the theatrical game-playing and flagging up of the intrinsic twist at the heart of stand-up: that interplay of the real-time experience and the scripted material, all performed by someone who (like a clown) is neither a 100% real-life person nor an assumed character, but an aspect of the self. 

Head Set is delivered with the wide-eyed mix of confidence and vulnerability that is typical of a Victoria Melody show. As always, her warm and welcoming stage persona puts the audience at ease, and invites them into whatever is her current world with welcoming arms. In the first half of the show, we are given a run-down of her time at stand-up comedy school, learning the craft. Her teacher is none too impressed with her material. Where’s the punchline, she repeatedly asks. This is not funny, where’s the joke? (I’m reminded of Stewart Lee’s essay on the English obsession with punchlines – apparently less important in other comedy traditions.) Victoria’s early attempts at a five-minute comedy routine are actually very funny, despite being un-formulaic. For example, there’s the one about the ducks she can’t look in the eye, because she lives on a boat and knows her pee is going into the river, but then realises the ducks are also peeing in the river. Laugh? I nearly wet myself…  Later, Head Set moves on to exploring her diagnosis with ADHD, adding in another strand to the work – the strange head set she starts wearing to monitor brain activity, which inadvertently becomes the breakthrough gimmick that helps her win over audiences. But there’s an irony here: she was so, so determined not to be ‘theatrical’, to do away with sets and props and just conquer the world of stand-up with her words…  Looks like theatre has cast a spell on her that she just can’ shake off. But whatever the ways and means, Head Set is a winner!

Victoria Melody: Head Set

An interesting extra theatrical addition in Head Set is the inclusion of offstage/onscreen husband Mitch, filmed talking about Victoria’s failed early attempts at stand-up in front of a live audience. Including other people (on film, or referenced) in one’s autobiographical stage work brings its own set of ethical dilemmas. In this case, we assume a straightforward case of ‘permission granted’. 

It’s a little more complex in Rosy Carrick’s solo show Musclebound, whose ‘also starring’ roster include an on-screen Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren; Rosy’s teenage daughter Olive, referenced and quoted, but represented visually by screenshots of Courteney Cox, playing Masters of the Universe young heroine Julie Winston; and a crude faceless cloth dummy, playing Rosie’s various sexual partners, short or longterm (a ‘Guy’ we could say – penny for?). Which raises the thorny question that dogs all discussion of narrative non-fiction, be it in book form or on stage: what of other people’s ‘material’ is OK to include in ‘your’ story? I have no answer, I’m just raising the question..

Musclebound, much delayed due to the pandemic, follows on from her brilliant earlier show, Passionate Machine, This latest, similarly, has autobiographical material at its heart, and uses a creation process (not unlike that of Victoria Melody) of complete immersion in an exterior subject – in this case, the world of male bodybuilding and he-man films. Passionate Machine was also poignantly autobiographical, but there was a core to it that went beyond Rosy’s life – a quest to explore metaphysical conundrums around the nature of time and space/time travel, prompted by a visit to the CERN Large Hadron Collider, and philosophical ideas brought up by an exploration of the work of poet Mayakovsky. Musclebound is a far more self-focused and self-exposing piece, with that other roster of characters – from the mighty Arnie to her daughter Olive – all put to service to help Rosy understand her own complex sexuality, and liberate her to a point of feeling no shame in acknowledging and exploring her fantasies.

With what is undoubtedly a great deal of bravery and honesty, Rosy unpicks her longstanding sexual obsession with ‘tortured beefcake’, taking her questions right to the horse’s mouth as she travels to the USA to attend conferences and bodybuilding shows, covertly recording the questions she asks of her heroes. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren don’t really give her the answers she wants – Dolph Lundgren because he doesn’t get it at all, and in the case of the formidably intelligent Arnie, it’s probably because she isn’t really asking him the right questions. Still, she does get to have her photo taken with him. 

Musclebound is built around confident verbal storytelling, taking us through Rosy’s sexual history, from early masturbatory fantasies to longterm relationships with ‘nice’ men who don’t quite cut the mustard. This is meshed with onscreen mash-ups of the aforementioned tortured beefcake, as we witness musclebound bodies stretched on racks, cut, stabbed or branded; and a relaying of encounters with boyfriends and one-night stands, played out in comic physical tussles with the squidgy, faceless dummy.

The show has a lot going for it, but needs some bedding down, so to speak, which will no doubt happen over a month-long Edinburgh run!

Rosy Carrick: Musclebound

Moving on from autobiography to biography: Carly Wijs’ Boy gives us the tragic story of David Reimer. It is a story that is firmly embedded in the public domain, with numerous documentaries, TV shows, and previous plays taking him as their subject. One of a pair of identical twins, David was born male but raised as a girl following medical advice after his penis was severely injured during a botched circumcision in infancy. Later, he reverted to living as a male, eventually marrying a woman who had three children, which he raised as his own. By age 38 he was dead, having taken his own life, following the suicide of his twin brother. These are the bare facts, and I am not giving you any spoilers, as all this is given to us in the programme notes or related to us in the opening minutes of the play.

So, like a Greek tragedy, we know the outcome of the story at the start. We know that it ends badly – but we are here to learn why and how. Relieved of the tension of worrying about outcome, we can appreciate the storytelling and immerse ourself in this terrible human story. 

Writer/director Carly Wijs previously brought us a similarly harrowing and terrible story in Us/Them, which took the 2004 Beslan school siege as its subject. The story of twin boys Brian and Bruce (David changed his name when he reverted back to his male identity age 15, preferring to ditch the ill-fated Bruce along with Brenda) is brought to us with compassion and a lack of judgement towards everyone involved – well, everyone other than the doctors, anyway… As with that previous work, Wijs demonstrates an outstanding ability to take a horrible true-life story and deliver it in a way that affects and moves, without assaulting or terrorising an audience.

Much of this is down to the cleverly entwined scenography and dramaturgy.  No less than 900 cuddly toys are brought into service, stacked up into a massive wall to serve as both set and props. The harrowing scenes from the twins’ childhoods – the botched circumcision, the re-assignment of little boy Bruce to little girl Brenda, the childhood bullying, and the appalling psychological and sexual abuse enacted upon the children by their ‘saviour’, Dr Money – are brought to us either using the teddies as crudely manipulated puppets or through the powers of verbal storytelling. 

This is all enacted beautifully by the two performers, Jeroen van der Ven and Vanja Maria Godee, who play the twins’ parents – an ordinary working-class couple who trust the authorities to know what is best for their children. The abuse of the trust this young couple put into the obnoxious Dr Money and others is another appalling aspect of this case. Both actors are excellent in their storytelling roles – completely believable in their innocence and optimism, despite the terrible circumstances.

There is an interesting switch in staging towards the end when we get to meet the real David Reimer onscreen, in an episode of the TV show Oprah on which he appeared with his mother. This perhaps to show audience members who hadn’t realised it was a true story that this was indeed the case. (The twins were born in 1965, and although initially anonymously documented by medical practitioners as the John/Joan case, David’s story exploded into the world when he went public in 1997.) The TV footage feels a slightly odd shift, but adds an interesting extra dimension.

Boy inevitably raises many issues around the topical and controversial subjects of gender, biological sex, and the question of nature versus nurture in the raising of children. Carly Wijs wisely steers clear of any judgement or viewpoint, preferring to tell the story and keep the focus on the abuse suffered by both boys by the medical experts; and on highlighting the sexism of the society that they were born and raised in. 

Carly Wijs: Boy

Featured image (top): Livia Kojo Alour: Black Sheep. Photo Sarah Hickson

Livia Kojo Alour: Black Sheep was seen at Assembly Rooms, 4 August 2022 

Carly Wijs: Boy was seen at Summerhall, 5 August 2022

Rosy Carrick: Musclebound was seen at Assembly Roxy, 6 August 2022

Victoria Melody: Head Set was seen at Pleasance Courtyard, 8 August 2022

All shows play for the three weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe, 5–29 August 2022. 

For further information and to book tickets, go to