Cirque Berserk

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Fast, funny, silly and skillful

The unique selling point of Cirque Berserk is that they bring real circus art into theatres, meaning this show is not created for a big top tent but for a proscenium arch stage. You do not have to hike out to a field somewhere outside the city but just take a turn at Piccadilly Circus and stroll into the Harold Pinter.

That stage, however, is fairly small and rammed full of people, props and sets. Centre stage and taking up most of the space is the caged dome called the “Globe of Death” already building up the thrills for Cirque Berserk’s most famous and hair-raising acts, the Lucius Team and their motorbikes. The word ‘berserk’ is derived from the berserkers, fierce Nordic warriors who fought bare-chested in wild fury. Cirque Berserk praises itself on providing maximum thrills with their artists performing entirely without safety devices, “risking life and limb every night for your entertainment” - a statement that might need to be revised following the recent death of a Cirque du Soleil artist. Audiences have indeed become somewhat complacent, shrugging off incredible skills and thrills with a jaded seen-it-all attitude. Cirque Berserk takes a very traditional approach in presenting wondrous human talent in breathless concession largely forgoing any of the Cirque de Soleil attempts at story or poetry. All the acts are thrown onto the stage here with no transitions and no coming up for air.

The Timbuktu Tumblers Human Pyramid. Photo: Piet-Hein Out

Cirque Berserk prides itself on offering the largest and most diverse collection of traditional circus arts: The Timbuktu Tumblers have a whole arsenal of tricks up their sleeves, from building human pyramids at light speed to limbo dancing under a bar so low a cat would have trouble passing underneath. It is also on fire. They jump through hoops, literally, and act as a sort of framework holding the whole show together and distracting us with spectacular skills while scenes get hurriedly changed in the background. Bolas Argentinas are a group of spirited percussionists who masterfully dance with Bolas, a throwing weapon somewhere between a whip and a lasso, designed to capture animals by entangling their legs. Traditionally used by gauchos, Gabriel and Germaine from the Bolas Argentinas use the weapons instead as rhythmic instruments accompanying their clicking heels. Gabriel can give the most skilled tap dancer a run for his money while throwing the burning Bolas and Germaine Delbosq is a woman of many talents, also juggling balls, rings, cubes and a burning wheel on her feet (sometimes while hulahooping with the other foot).

There is a very old school traditional feel to Cirque Berserk with the classic circus music choices and some fairground attractions such as knife throwing and a ballet of old fashioned showgirls. The duo of Super Mario moustachioed clowns acting as hapless stagehands is truly refreshingly funny though. Clowns can be so hard to get right and these two hit just the right balance between silliness and actual skill.

The second half brings a sudden change introducing a more atmospheric storytelling quality to it as the stage transforms into a gipsy campsite. Some strangely beautiful creatures appear for dreamlike mini scenes such as the giant robot, a truly spectacular costume, the majestic procession by the Tropicana Troupe or the strange little owl like creature flying above the scene on an aerial hoop. Magical little gems are scattered across the evening such as the truly spectacular chair-balancing act by Zula. It doesn’t last more than a minute but the oldest act in circus art is still thrilling. The flexible Odka from Mongolia emerges from a bottle before shooting an arrow with her feet while doing a handstand. Laci Fossett creates one of the few lyrical moments with his act on the rarely used aerial pole. Mostly, the show is breathless, relentless non-stop energy and adrenaline. Each act only lasts a few minutes and no sooner have we seen another awe-inspiring stunt than the next one follows.

Globe of Death by the Lucius Troupe. Photographer Piet-Hein Out

At its heart, Cirque Berserk is undeniably all about the motorbike act, so good they show it twice, teasing us with two bikers in the first half and building up to four for the grand finale. The Globe of Death is terrifyingly small and watching the bikers criss-cross around in it at outrageous speed, upside down and hot on each other’s heels with no room for error is dizzying and will put even the most jaded person on the edge of their seat. The modern act sits a bit disconnectedly with the rest of the show but it had the audience screaming.

Cirque Berserk is a fast, funny, silly and spirited show, high on energy and high on humour with its very own rough and daredevil style: Berserkus!

Cirque Berserk is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 7 May.