Circus Geeks Beta Testing

With its annual circus festival, the Roundhouse continues to be one of London’s most interesting live event spaces. This year, CircusFest 2014 (they may be imaginative in their programming but not in their festival titles), promises their widest ever selection of shows. For our April Cog Night we booked for one of their small, studio acts – Circus Geeks performing the premiere of a new piece: Beta Testing.

I’m old enough to remember the sudden emergence of circus skills as a seemingly new performance art, and the opening of Circus Space in the East End (mostly, it seemed, because the Millennium Dome required lots of aerial artists trained quickly for its centrepiece show).

There’s no stage in the Studio space, it really is more like a lecture theatre. As we took our seats, the three circus geeks were already playing with their… fill in your own punch line here.

Michael Smith

I’ve therefore lived through a generation of events with people falling from ceilings wrapped in cloth, there seem to be so many trained ceiling-fallers that they’ve become the mainstay of every corporate event. But still people love them, still people ooh and ahh, gasp and gawp.

Jugglers on the other hand are a different matter. Nobody likes a juggler, do they?

If I’m honest, I had no idea that this was a juggling show before we went. I hadn’t been paying enough attention when I skimmed the marketing blurb. I thought it was going to be about the science of circus skills. I was expecting a bit of juggling (with some amusing graphs and talks about parabolas) but mostly I thought it would be… well, I’m not sure what I thought it would be but it looked intriguing.

There’s no stage in the Studio space, it really is more like a lecture theatre. As we took our seats, the three circus geeks were already playing with their… fill in your own punch line here.

The show began as a lecture, with Jon Udry juggling five balls and Arron Sparks talking us through the interest curve of a typical audience (and Matt Pang acting as assistant and stick-pointer): at first we are wowed, then we are bored or perhaps looking at technique, finally our interest mounts again when it becomes obvious that, at some point he has to… drop… the… …. balls.

And that is the basic paradox of the juggler. The only way people realise how difficult it can be, is when things go wrong and you drop the balls, clubs, rings, bowling ball, rolling pin etc.

The show continued like a series of sketches. Some felt specially devised, others felt like they could have been brought in from existing material. Throughout, the geeks relied on a projector and sound set-up, powered from an on-stage computer. I’ve never been to a lecture or conference where the computer-led sound and visuals worked properly – this show was no exception. But the thinly disguised panic and lack of slickness made the geeks all the more endearing.

The idea of inevitable failure was a running theme, sometimes as an obvious part of the show, sometimes accidently, and occasionally used as a comic device to (I’m assuming) disguise the rough edges that haven’t quite been perfected in a routine.

I really enjoyed the ‘lecture’ aspect of the work, especially the red/green routine, and the idiot’s guide to juggling terms was great. There was also a moment of exceptional comic timing, involving a wet fish, which really made me laugh.

The finale was performed behind a translucent curtain. In a clever meta way, the performance, thus far (which we’d seen Matt Pang videoing throughout), was sped up and projected onto the curtain. Over it was played the soundtrack of what sounded like interviews about jugglers, or show-offs as was the common opinion. As music kicked in, the projection showed them juggling behind the projection of them juggling. It was almost a great piece of choreographed theatre but, as if to show how difficult it was, they did drop their balls a couple of times.

This was the first outing for a new show. For me, it still feels like a sum of parts (playing to the not always evenly weighted individual skills of each member) rather than a satisfying equation. Like a lot of new productions, I think this would benefit from a producer, rearranging the parts and reworking the narrative arc. But it was a lot of fun and the (very) occasional fumbling made it all the more believable and charming. According to their website, they’ll be touring the show in 2015, I’d encourage you to see it, even if you don’t think you like jugglers.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *