Splash Test Dummies ****
Hotel Paradiso ****
La Clique *****
All shows at Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows until 27 August
Roll up, roll up, even rollerskate up, tumble along, swing over or unicycle down to the Meadows to the joyful twin tent peaks and particularly warm welcome of Underbelly’s Circus Hub – they don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can.
And if you do, start the day right with Splash Test Dummies, an Aussie acrobatic trio who make like a PG Baywatch in the expanse of the Lafayette big top. Slo-mo running shots are a feature, but here the bodies are more to be admired for their strength, agility, grace, bendiness and comical willingness to fill out cheery, stripey, onesy bathing suits. It also helps that one of the Dummies actually looks like a Victorian strongman, so we’re in safe hands.
Kids of all ages were roped in – literally, by their volleyball net. Rubber swimming caps were thoroughly tested for their elasticity. There were visual gags behind a shower curtain (bonus point for using Sesame Street’s Rubber Duckie as the soundtrack). And there was no way that giant beachball was not going to end up in the crowd. The knockabout is gratifyingly silly but merely a prelude to some sweet acrobatic routines.
There were oohs, aahs, cheers and wows for some seamless athletic work on the giant cyr wheel and a joyous undersea adventure using a lattice of rings as diving helmets. Juggling clubs are acquired from an unusual source and fashioned into a variety of instruments before the intrepid and imaginative threesome waterski-mime off into the sunset. Watch out for the spray.
Next stop: welcome to the Hotel Paradiso for more family-friendly inventive antics from Lost In Translation Circus. Meet concierge Carmelo, bellboy Dario, chambermaid Lucia and owner Madame, whose feathers are at a tilt since her beloved hotel is about to be sold from under her sparkly stilettos.
Again, the scenario is a loose conceptual hook for the six-piece ensemble to deliver some slapstick circus skills – from a human skipping rope to a balancing routine on chairs to a balletic turn on the cyr wheel, all controlled and contained on the modestly proportioned stage of the Wee Beauty Spiegeltent. The cast are in perpetual motion – Madame turns to drink and hula hooping, Lucia swings from the chandelier and, after a few more entrances, exits and general chase scenes, there is an impressive final set piece on a larger scale. Let’s just say every hotel should have its own inflatable landing mat. Health and safety first – or hand-in-hand with spectacle.
Once the kids are in bed, the freaks come out to play, as the ultra-atmospheric circus and burlesque variety extravaganza La Clique makes a stunning return to the Fringe. The concept remains the same – the troupe are just going to chuck a non-stop succession of brilliant boutique circus acts at the audience until their eyes are overloaded with artistry. Somehow, this year, they have improved on excellence.
Scottish aerial artist Miranda Menzies puts the special into speciality as she is strung up by her ponytail and carves graceful shapes in the ether. She takes a running jump, swings, cradles, bends her legs at remarkable angles and showers some glitter along with her talent on to the crowd. Is this what they call hairography?
It’s only a matter of time before someone takes off their clothes – about ten minutes to be precise, as cowboy cyr wheeler-dealer Charlie Wheeller funks our life up with a sultry Paolo Nutini soundtrack and open-shirted athleticism. Mikael Bres exhibits awesome control on the riskiest pole dance I’ve ever seen.
Sword swallower and fire-eater Heather Holliday brings some old school Vegas showgirl glamour to the art of the heebie-jeebies, loosening her corset to aid further penetration. You will be amazed – or aghast – at just how many swords she can slide down that gullet. The Force is strong with her as she wields her light sabre.
Smart use of music is a key Clique device for ramping up the atmosphere. Beanie-hatted unicyclist Sam Goodburn has the crowd stomping along to The White Stripes as he performs the opposite of a striptease from astride his saddle. LJ Marles lives for the applause in his Lady Gaga-soundtracked routine on aerial straps. Hugo Desmarais goes down to his loincloth while lashed to a cross-shaped trapeze and J’aiMime wrangles a big pink balloon in delightfully freaky fashion.
But the heads of this self-styled dysfunctional family are the totally badass Skating Willers, who are back, back, back with their high-speed, head-spinning rocking roller-skating rotor routines, bridging the gap between old school and supercool circus skills.
Anyone who misses the cheeky cabaret element of La Clique should stumble into Blunderland, this year’s late night Spiegeltent offering. Where La Clique has become a more mainstream safe bet sell-out attraction over the years, Blunderland is the transgressive alternative upstart, emerging from New York’s queer underground nightlife scene. The humour is darker and more daring, the acts are naughtier and weirder, and the MC, Eric Schmalenberger, is dressed as a human condom.
The queer punk maintenance crew are on hand in case anything goes wrong – and if accident-prone Olivia Porter is in the room, it probably will. Her angular juggling act is cleverly choreographed and she does things with a skipping rope they never showed you in the school playground. Memphis Mae performs a bubblegum-assisted striptease in her Folies Bergère finery, while Tara Boom is a hot mess on the stage toilet.
It’s not all shits and giggles though – Bede Nash, Leo Pentland and Emily Porter get down to wondrous acrobatic business on hoops, silks and rope that belies the seeming chaos and commotion that reigns over Blunderland. Welcome to your new favourite cult Fringe outing.