In the Big Top at Creative Common, nestled just behind Temple Meads, the name of Bristol circus was brought to new heights with Under the Dark Moon… The creators were Invisible Circus, a long running Bristol-grown pool of circus talent usually found swinging from the rafters of disused industrial buildings, who from 3-5 April will be enchanting audiences at Bristol Old Vic. I first encountered their mystical ways on Halloween last October…
Under the Dark Moon…
A thick mist hovers between the heads of the audience and the heights of the Big Top. Other than the odd slurp from a plastic cup or soft shuffling of a late-comer, a tingling silence bursting with anticipation and child-like impatience floods the tent. All eyes meet at a single dusty spot-lit circle, all bottoms quiver tentatively at the edge of five hundred plastic seats. The show is about to begin. Suddenly with a gut-wrenching hurl and a low, ogre-like grunt the band whips up the silence and begins smashing it recklessly across the room. Six ghoul-faced, waist-coated musicians in true Spaghetti-Western style begin to spin a frenzy of double bass, broken-piano genius. Invisible Circus does not do things by halves, and that includes their entrance.
A tall, Fagin-like character enters the spotlight; shoulders cloaked in raven feathers and face painted with the same menacing white as the band. Despite the programme citing German Expressionism as a key influence, the Dickensian darkness is unavoidable. Brass topped cane in hand, he begins to recount the twisted tales of the five, equally elaborately dressed performers who have appeared behind him. Unlike some circus shows where the audience is bombarded with a firework display of underage acrobats, depressing slapstick and steroid-fuelled gym monkeys, each performer’s talent is slowly and intricately introduced as the eerie tales unfold.
The tales are dark, if not harrowing. One performer is left to clamber hopelessly out of thickly knotted ropes that smother him from head to toe. The first time we meet another, she is enveloped in bandages that stretch her arms across her chest like a Victorian straight jacket – each end tied to opposite sides of the stage. The unravelling of their entrapments mimics the development of their skills. By the denouement of the evening they have used their ropes to tumble from the sky in a magnificent Corde Lisse act, and the girl is suspended by one hand at the top of a Chinese pole. Throughout the night the band sets the scene of each performer’s tale, drawing pity with sorrowful string movements then spitting into tin cans to mock the difficulty of a trapeze artist’s landing.
The alluring extravagance of the costumes, the wise hoarseness of the narration, the bewitching facial expressions of the performers – from cheeky to mournful; each detail is so refined and structured towards creating an entire experience rather than a mere showcase of (unbelievable) talent. Under the Dark Moon… sends the audience reeling back to an era of true mysticism, where a cool breath of air on the back of the neck sent shivers down the spine and adrenaline through the bloodstream.
(Adapted from original article * Epigram Arts)