Having seen this troupe before, there was an expectation which, I’m annoyed with myself at saying, they didn’t quite live up to. The first clue that should have given the game away was the venue. Last time, Circa performed at McEwan Hall – for most of the year, it is used for university purposes, but it is otherwise a pseudo-proscenium arch venue, with a two-level auditorium in a semi circle. Larger audience capacity and stage = more aerial acts. This time, it was in the Udder Belly – an upside down purple cow tent, where most of the rigging goes towards supporting the tent and tech, and not a circus troupe = less aerial acts.
Then there was the foundation of the show that, again I don’t like saying, didn’t fulfill. Presumably down to venue choice, it had to be a smaller show. It begins with a slow-motion video, zoomed in on the bodies of acrobatics performing routines, showing the ripple effect of a hand on skin, or legs landing in formation. A title like Close Up suggests something intimate, and the video confirms it. The performers then appear, of which there are now four not six, and offer their hands to the audience to feel their calluses and hard skin. This is about as far as the motif goes before the show descends into what I can only describe as an unfinished cabaret, where everyone does their token routine, we applaud, and cue the curtain.
What I initially (and upon watching, instantly) loved about Circa was their mesh of clowning, physical theatre and acrobatics. Rather than hide the panting, counts and the little grunts that you might expect from having someone use your stomach as a springboard, they kept them in, evidently valuing some essence of realism over stoicism otherwise found in other circus acts. Their skill was honed, to the point where it would appear shoddy and (stylistically) haggard for a moment, before executing a breathtaking move. It was deliberate, but not forced. Unfortunately this night’s show, while showcasing some undeniable talent, took neither the time nor the concentration to actually become aware of the audience (like a clown always does), making the moments in between each routine seem hammy and completely disjointed.
Without a doubt, these guys are annoyingly talented, and if I were in Oz I would gladly throw money at them. The stand out performance of the night was on the rope. I really wanted to like the show, and perhaps it’s because we were 15 minutes late on being let in, but there was an overwhelming sense of rushing through the piece that didn’t allow much room for us to fully appreciate the show. Fingers crossed this changes over the Festival.
‘Close Up‘ at the Under(udder)Belly, George Square
Ed Byrne – Outside Looking In
Like him mentioning a number of times he died in front of a crowd, mentioning bad reviews of a show before you’ve spoken about it is probably not the best opener, but as I’ve said for the last couple of years, there isn’t much point in reviewing stand up. Are they a comedian? Yes. Did they make the audience laugh? Yes. Was it consistent? Yes. They win! Drinks all around.
The most I can say is that I had a good night. It was more opinion piece than a joke-machine – “sorry if it sounds like I’m burnin’ me bra, here” – with some seriously laugh out loud moments. The most consistent thing I’ve found with Byrne is audience rapport. He’ll usually ask if anyone has experienced something he’s talking about and, without fail, their stories are always far weirder than anticipated – like this night, for example. Have you ever pinpointed the moment when a date went downhill? Yes, but lets spend the next 10 minutes avoiding the answer despite saying yes, you do know that moment, and that’s why Mr Comedian is talking to you. People are weird.
It was a simple gig, rough around the edges and suitably Fringey, but the one thing that struck the most as I was leaving was the man himself. 20 years working as a comedian and coming to the Fringe, and yet he still has quite a low profile. He spoke about in the show, too – it’s not so much he missed the Fame bus, but said “Nah, I’ll catch the next one” and it never came back. His comedy has never been outlandish – someone called it forgettable in the link below – but despite regular TV appearances, he’s never surpassed the stage he reached in the ’90s, and I have no idea why.
[It’s also made me think it might be time for another comedy post, but I’ll save that for the end of the Festival…]
‘Ed Byrne – Outside Looking In‘, The Debating Hall, Teviot