La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
October 21 – November 4
As Karen Blixen (writing under the pen name Isak Dinesen) noted in her acclaimed, meditative memoir “Out of Africa”, ‘When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find that it is the same in all her music”. This is a perfect descriptor of the explosion of colour, culture and rhythm that is “Cirque Africa”. The show, featuring 22 performers from six African countries is a high-energy celebration of the continent, beginning with bird and animal sounds that carry the audience also through interval.
Everything is authentic about this unique cirque style show, beginning with its original African musical numbers performed by its live band. This is one of the few constants in the work; there is no narrative as such, just human impossibilities taken to the next level as performers with baffling strength, balance, bike big and small and teeter before our eyes.
The amazingly-skilled cast all show seemingly effortless agility in their undertake of out-of-this-world challenging circus acts. There is foot juggling from Zaina, balancing and spinning even a table, an upsized rolla rolla teeter board routine from Ibrahim and, from The Hakuna Matata Acrobats, pole work and human pyramids into the Roundhouse Theatre’s heights.
Add in some skilled stilt-walking and segments of African dance and the show offers a wonderful diversity in its family-friendly appeal, even if at 2 hours (including interval) it does sometimes seem to drag beyond what could be more tightly curated program.
Moving things along is MC Papa Africa (aka Zimbabwe-born Director Winston Ruddle), who also serves as the show’s clown, complete with red nose. The arising humour represents some of the night’s most memorable moments as audience member ‘volunteers’ are redeployed as miming vocalist, guitarist, pianist and drummer members of a band for a hilarious performance. And although you don’t have to be child to marvel at the routines within the highly visual show, an opening night highlight comes when a ‘still only in Grade One’ volunteer is brought to the stage to excitedly recreate some African drumming routines.
Certainly all cirques are different and experience of them will each be unique. Staging of the show in La Boite’s theatre-in-the-round space is intimate for some, but not all of the audience, with performers still predominantly only playing to the front. Times when house lights are upped for applause also detract from overall fluency and audience ability to become absorbed in its moments.
Still, when preshow signage warns that “this production contains good vibes and great energy”, they it is not wrong. This uniquely African amalgam of dance, acrobatics and humour is honest, real and authentic. And although it is a critically acclaimed acrobatic and dance experience, the most appealing thing about “Cirque Africa” is its undeniable heart. This is a celebration of Africa’s colour and people to fill audiences with joy.
Very interesting. Just did a piece on a non animal circus.