When you hear that the circus is coming to town, your mind is likely to conjure up images of a big top in which terrifying tricks and clowning capers take place in a ring. Cirque Berserk! (presented by Zippos) breaks the mould, offering a full circus experience on a theatre stage. This popular production is celebrating its tenth anniversary year with a five-week residency at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios. We headed along to the press night for an electrifying evening of fear and laughter.
The production is new for 2023 and combines contemporary circus with death-defying stunts. The show sees acts from around the world making their UK circus debut alongside a host of Cirque Berserk! favourites including the ever-impressive (yet utterly petrifying) Globe of Death and multi-talented Brazilian aerialist, physical-comedy star and ‘capoeira’ champion Paulo Dos Santos. They’re joined by an array of acts including acrobats, jugglers, knife-throwers and plenty more, ensuring something for everyone.
The best circus has you peeking between your fingers and Cirque Berserk! is no exception. Ludvick Novotny brings the fear factor early on with his rola bola routine, while Jackie Louise will have you gasping as she dangles from her feet on aerial straps. Things keep on ramping up until the long-awaited arrival of the Lucius Team to close the first Act. You know you’re watching something dangerous when someone stands to the side of the stage with a fire extinguisher! Having seen the Globe of Death a couple of times before, we can confirm that it never gets any less comfortable watching a woman with nerves of steel stand in the centre of a metal cage as motorbikes zip around her. The theatre setting also intensifies the drama; the sounds are louder, the smells are stronger and you can feel your seat shaking as the motorbikes rev.
Fans of acrobatics are in for a treat, with two amazing groups gracing the stage, each with a very distinct style. We loved the Timbuktu Tumblers the last time we visited Zippos and they’re just as impressive this time around, with their flame-filled street act featuring hoop diving and limbo. They’re joined by special guests from the Steppes, the Mongolian Troupe, who effortlessly throw each other through the air. We especially enjoyed the human skipping rope. There’s also a nice variety of aerial acts, including hoop, silks and straps, plus the most unusual display of archery you are ever likely to see. There’s also a delightfully surreal moment featuring a giant, fire-breathing robot.
It’s a well-put together show, with each segment seamlessly running into the next, often interacting to give the feel of a cohesive production rather than a series of individual acts. There is no ringmaster and no spoken word at all, making it an incredibly accessible production that will appeal to a wide audience. While there is no particular narrative, things are nicely tied together by the repeated arrival of comedy duo, Whimmie Walker and Paulo Dos Santos, who just about manage to steal the show with a hilarious routine featuring a giant balloon.
Overall, Cirque Berserk! does exactly what is says on the tin, offering up a real circus experience in a theatre setting. While it doesn’t quite have the same atmosphere as the big top (and some acts feel a little constrained by the comparatively small performance space), it’s every bit as thrilling as its tented counterpart.
Cirque Berserk! plays at Riverside Studios from 9 February to 12 March 2023. We received complimentary tickets to the 7.30pm performance on 10 February.