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Review: Sophie’s Surprise 29th at the Underbelly Circus Hub - Ed Fringe

Review by Carly Fisher


As someone who generally does not love circus, to be honest, I wasn’t really looking closely at what the ‘Circus Hub’ had on offer. Thank gosh, Sophie’s Surprise 29th came with such high recommendations that I didn’t miss it despite overlooking its venue…lesson learned, my mistake!


A simple but original concept for a circus/variety performance show, the idea is that we are all there to celebrate a birthday party and someone in the audience is certainly in for a surprise. It’s great to see a show like this that has a little storyline to follow, elevating the traditional format of this type of show.

Whilst the audience is still taking their seats in the large circus tent, well before the show starts, the performers are already interacting with the audience and the characterisation is seriously on point. For anyone who may have doubted whether acrobats and aerialists can really act as well, I urge you to see this show and thoroughly enjoy being proven wrong.


The stand out in the way of character is Katharine Arnold who proves that she is absolutely nothing like her geeky original character when she rips off her original costume and reveals herself to be one of the most beautiful aerialists I have seen in a long time. Performing one routine (in character) in ropes and one (as herself) on the hoop, the commitment she has to her role is all the more profound when you consider the intricacies she has included through her nuanced performance. In character, her feet stay intentionally totally flexed, out of it, she has gorgeous pointe, etc.


Cornelius Atkinson also goes all the way in portraying his character of goth boy. A beautiful performer, he shines both in his solos but particularly in his trio performance wth the equally talented Nathan Price and Isis Clegg-Vinell. These three are extraordinary together and the tricks that they pull off are breathtaking…literally. When Clegg-Vinell and Price perform a duet on roller skates together, again, I am torn between feelings of ‘I can’t take my eyes off of you’ and ‘oh my gosh I can’t look.’ There is no question, all three are at the top of their field.

Nella Niva will make you reconsider gym balls for good…like, how will I ever merely use one to stretch and not feel like a failure again?! As the typical party girl, Niva brings such energy to her performance and her character and is just such fun to watch. Her stunts look so dangerous that I found myself holding my breath for much of her gym ball performance but all the same, I was impressed!


And finally, rounding out the group, Sam Goodburn is one of the most professional ‘clowns’ I’ve seen. Funny, excellent at crowd work and very talented (with extremely good balance), Goodburn is a crowd favourite for sure!


This is a new company - Sophies Surprise 29th being their first show together. This show should/needs to tour. I can tell you that Aussie audiences will love the format and the talent. I hope that out of the fringe context they extend the show too - with so much 'extra' going on, there weren't as many routines as I would have loved - I could watch the aerial and acrobatic work all day! This new company is on to something here and if they push it all the way, I anticipate enormous success for them.

The Fringe is such a good time to go beyond the styles of theatre that you think that you prefer and to go see other types of theatre. This show has definitely ensured that I won’t be overlooking the Circus Hub again next year!

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