This week the leading Swedish circus troupe, Cirkus Cirkor, present two different shows in the UK. In addition to their new offering Underman, which is at the Roundhouse in London as part of CircusFest, they are simultaneously playing their previous show Wear it Like a Crown (first performed in 2010) at the Wales Millennium Centre.
This is a lavish, dark and intricate production, Gothic in atmosphere, with a circular stage framed by a crown-shaped portique. There’s a vague video backdrop and a sense of gloom which extends beyond the edges of the stage, creating an intimate, immediate world for the performers too work within.
The six-strong cast are a deliberately motley crew, with heavy eye makeup, chicly messy, yet co-ordinated costumes and carefully crafted misfit attitudes to match. There is no real narrative structure to the production but the themes of facing fears and embracing failures recur in the show’s structure. This is appealing in circus, where the performers can so often come across as superhuman specimens, or more recently, uber-trendy urbanites: creatures above and beyond the everyday.
The production is built around the individual artists, showcasing their skills and identities through a series of circus acts, street theatre tricks and visual imagery. The acts in general are inventively presented, though some are more successful than others. Two characters in particular stand out – David Eriksson and Fofo Rakez. who spit and bounce pingpong balls to each other with delightful speed and dexterity, both building up a strong rapport with the audience. Less successful is ‘Nerves of Steel’, Jesper Nikolajeff, whose knife throwing at a spinning target is perfectly executed (luckily for the audience member brought up to participate), but whose delivery is too steel-like to capture an crowd as large as the one at WMC.
Certain everyday objects are offered as emblems accompanying the characters – for Eriksson, it’s a pingpong ball; for Henrik Aggerson, the ‘Wizard of Wonder’, it’s a suction plunger, and so on – and these are inventively utilised, visually embedded into the fabric of the production, but ultimately this device doesn’t lead anywhere. There’s so much going on that this hardly matters in terms of the immediate experience, but something about the show doesn’t quite add up. It has density and depth that comes from the working and reworking of sequences, the time spent playing and devising, and the many different contributors that make up the show as a whole, but something somewhere has been lost. There’s a vagueness to piece; it’s like an old English town, full of higgledy piggledy streets, where the original uses of certain structures and pathways has been lost to history. This could be a result of changes in the cast – at least one artist is new since the show was created, with a knock-on effect, presumably, for the ensemble interactions, which are many.
Despite the lack of clarity there is still enough here to entertain an audience for a couple of hours, and the impeccably freakish ‘queen of hearts’ styling and haunting theme tune ‘Wear it Like a Crown’ by Rebekka Karijord are very memorable.