Edinburgh Festival Fringe: At first, it’s easy to view this show through the lens of social conscience. Upsala Circus is populated by at-risk young people from St Petersburg so, of course, we have to like their show regardless.
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
But by the end, the warm cheers are genuine – and it’s because of what they’ve done, not who they are. In the increasingly over-subscribed world of contemporary circus, there’s always somebody who can jump higher or land more spectacularly – and honestly, there are stronger acrobatic shows at the Fringe than this one.
But Upsala has something special – charming yet cheeky, which makes your smile grow bigger by the minute. There’s also theatrical artistry accompanying the circus skills, thanks, in part, to two adult musicians, who create looped vocal sounds mixed with strings to form a gorgeous live soundtrack to the tricks. Most of which are the usual fare – shoulder balances and flips, Cyr wheel, hula hoop, juggling – all delivered with a confidence that’s assured but friendly, never arrogant.
The eponymous balls are everywhere: juggled impressively against a wall, suspended comically in the air by blowing at them, or pouring down onto the stage during the crowd-pleasing finale. A bespoke contraption, part-drum, part-canon, is wheeled out and walloped to produce enormous smoke rings that billow above our heads. And a large padded mat is rolled onto the stage to give the performers extra height as they fly into the air in an impressive torrent of tumbles.
It’s this kind of thing which gives the show its uniqueness – something all circus productions are desperately trying to find, and which this happy, loveable band of young Russians is most definitely in possession of.