Review By Jerome Studdy
Circus, as an artform, is well understood in its need for immense skill, precision, balance, and technique. It's these well honed skills that create truly magical performances. However, one of the real unspoken arts of theatre and circus is the ability to balance, pace, and program a show that hangs together just so, and keeps the audience engaged or in suspense in the right measure.
Circus of Illusion is the brainchild of director, illusionist, and producer Michael Boyd, and has recently played a limited run at the State Theatre. Boyd has collected some excellent acts for the show, and demonstrated his own impressive skills as an illusionist, however, the show is lacking the unspoken arts of architecture and cohesion in a way that often felt jarring from an audience perspective.
This is not to say the show was without merit; individual performers themselves displayed excellent understanding of their craft and were engaging and a pleasure to watch. Hula Hoops artist, Sarah Blom was a pure joy to watch, with a bubbling stage presence and a sharp, tight routine that neatly thrilled the audience. Aerialist and contortionist, Tro, (oddly introduced as a "strongman" rather than something more specific to their apparatus) demonstrated incredible physical skill and capability both on the floor and on a pole/lyra hybrid apparatus, despite some visible moments of fatigue. Ringmaster Idris Stanbury was enjoyable in his self aware comedy and juggling, and of course the large scale illusions from Michael Boyd were impressive.
And, as always, Sascha Williams' act on Rola Bola did not fail to excite and, yes, absolutely terrify the audience. Having seen Williams' act in previous shows, it has always been to his merit that he knows how to present himself as, not only an incredible performer, but as a human. There were accidental tumbles, some misplaced props, and a couple of small fumbles, however, the audience cheered and encouraged Williams on. An absolute testament to his charm and presence as a performer. More circus artists need to develop the ability to fumble and not fall. Too many acts hinge upon perfection, and more often than not, if they fumble, because they're only human, the audience interest can be lost.
Where the show was at its weakest was its overall branding and programming. From the outset the show seemed aimed at families, which was backed up by some whimsy and comedy, but it was immediately followed by scantily clad dancers (performing routines lacking in ensemble, timing, and originality) or dark sexy routines, talk of nightmares, or problematic jungle sacrifice routines. The show felt confused. The programming felt stunted too, as midway through the second act a performance of "Welcome to the Show" was mounted. Similarly the opening number was immediately followed by audience participation comedy and small magic tricks, where you might often look to mount some larger illusions and allow the audience time to settle in. Greater consideration of overall flow would definitely improve this production.
Overall, there's no denying the talent and hours of dedication that have gone into the crafts of these performers. It is a shame however that we're unable to see them in a more flattering and original production format.