(seen at the 4pm performance on 13th August 2023)
“Do you like circuses? I love circuses.” So runs the constant opening gambit of loveable but dim couple Eddie and Joan in cult 2003 sitcom “Early Doors.” The monkey would answer “of course” ... but realised with a jolt while watching a stupendous aerial act at the 2022 Royal Variety Performance that it hadn’t actually seen a full one in over 40 years.
Things have evolved from its childhood memories of Gerry Cottle’s touring menagerie. Enlightened times mean Big Kid Circus doesn’t have so much as a goldfish in the show. Even the Big Top is polyurethane, though in red with white blotches it does resemble a cow who chose unwisely to holiday in Greece this year without sun cream...
The ring is now raised boards rather than sawdust. There's high-tech lighting, and a tight-knit team make the incredible happen.
A “Stomp” style opening number with mops and brooms, a greeting from our check-trouser wearing ringmaster Kevin, and the show moves quickly into the air as the only flying trapeze act currently touring the UK literally swings into action.
A safety net is used – Victor even dives into it from a fixed swing high in the Big Top – but its real purpose comes as even the best, like Chico, can miss a catch – “that’s live shows” as Kevin remarks.
Further complicating matters, there’s always some clown like circus resident Papeluxo, who wants to fly. Eagerly stripping off to heart-bedecked pants... it was never going to end well...
Clown chum La Loka covers the mayhem of net removal, finding love with unimpressed Jimmy on the second row, who thought he was just taking the kids to a show.
She follows up with an excellent panto-style “divide the audience to cheer” routine, “We Will Rock You” indeed.
Gentler, a snake-sculpture encrusted podium is home to a macabrely clad contortionist crab-walking and supporting her own weight with her jaw. She also sells popcorn in the foyer... versatile.
Third clown Jito assists a glamourous lady in a neat “quick change” routine, ending up himself in snappy evening dress and pulling off a glittering finale that will have you scratching your head in delight.
More glamour as La Loka pulls a classic “chase the light” routine before launching into a version of “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” that the West End production should incorporate immediately. Without Kevin to confiscate lunch and with the added handstand marching, La Loka’s version would pull in the crowds, particularly with the lady herself in the lead.
Back in the air, with a routine the monkey has never seen before. A solid pole free-swinging from the roof, on which a dancer performs acrobatics usually done only on a pole fixed to the ground.
Our friend Papeluxo returns to demonstrate further just how gifted a clown he is with another classic, the “fainting” routine. Joined by the other two, their three-clown crab march-off is an oldie and bestie.
Equally so, tightrope never goes out of style - and Big Kid have some of the most stylish. Entering up a sloping rope from the grandstand, it is the full range of skills. Kneel, forward roll, leap-frog, even blindfold (another fall, intentional or not, included).
The second half opens with the drawing of the raffle and a touching moment unrepeatable. Little boy wins and, confronted with a table of prizes to choose from, asks his sister what she wants and picks a doll’s car set.
A daft 3 clown statue routine around a bench warms us up for another original act.
Think two poles like rugby posts, a bit closer together. Take three acrobats and have them climb and leap between them, revolve and plunge headfirst to earth before stopping just short of re-painting the stage nasty shades of red and grey.
While the stage is once again mopped, er, cleared, Jito attempts to entertain us with his trumpet playing (no, Papeluxo, it isn’t a guitar, though your visual idea is hilarious) and Tik Tok is up to date.
With rats chasing them off stage, we again look skywards as two young ladies share a small ring suspended above the ring below. A high drop and revolving using only a hairdo, if anyone has any nails left, they won’t now.
Another fun interlude between Kevin and La Loka (they should get a room) and a "big box" illusion which is less deadly than it looks. Just as well, before something really dangerous happens... the final act is the infamous “Globe of Death”...
In a huge cage orb wheeled centre-stage, one, then two (a lady!), then 3 motor bikers get up speed, with, at one point, brave Kevin crouched in the centre. It isn’t just the exhaust fumes giving the audience a giddy high. This is a real thrill, up close.
A final linked arms farewell and back to the real world, the monkey delighted it was able to thank Papeluxo and Kevin in person on the way out.
Sure there are things that could be worked on. Both opening and closing numbers are heartfelt and homely but could be polished by a director / choreographer for maximum visual if not emotional impact.
Trickier, the sound system isn’t clear and many performers’ names were indistinct – swallowed by it and little microphone training. Without a cast list or programme to refer to, the monkey just hopes it got some right in this opinion, as they are a wonderful troupe.
Two solid hours of family entertainment at ticket prices which, by West End theatre standards, are practically giving them away. The show is hiding its massive light under a bushel, a little more commercial acumen (pre-show selling as well as marketing in general) and it will surely find the audience and profit it deserves.
Firmly on the monkey radar for next year, as Barnum exhorts in his musical, “come follow the band, wherever it’s at” You won’t regret it.
Touring dates and ticket reservations for 2023: www.bigkidcircus.co.uk