Who says sheep don’t fly?

Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show (Circa)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 2 – 21

Everyone in the audience is excited for opening night of “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show”. It is a thrill that is only amplified as the curtain is opened to reveal more than just the initially seen large present box at the front of the stage. The collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Circa and Aardman Animations, creators of the multi-award-winning TV series “Shaun the Sheep” devised by Richard Starzak, is a spectacle of staging, using the height and depth of QPAC’s Lyric Theatre to full advantage to roll a hill of astroturf green down from Mossy Bottom Farm. It is in this meadow where everyone’s favourite sheep Shaun and his flock of animal friends animals interact and play unbeknown to the oblivious Farmer, presenting, as they do, un-baaa-lievable circus skills and thrills while a digital billboard (Video Director Craig Wilkinson) orients the audience as to proceedings, including with clips from the original movie.

Introduction to the show’s characters is accompanied by a dynamic soundscape such as when menacing music complements appearance of a red-rag determined bull with a wheelbarrow. And before long, we settle into a story of sorts told in short snippet scenes that suit its young audience demographic. An eclectic Act One ends with the animals accidently cutting the power fuelling the Farmers’ tv, meaning that they must improvise with the chaotic-at-first circus of the show’s title that takes up Act Two. A live video of the on-stage antics not only captures the circus acts from a different perspective, but allows for some additional humour as the animals play things up for the camera.

Whoever says sheep don’t fly, has clearly never seen the extreme physicality and awe-inspiring feats that feature at the core of Circa shows. And in keeping with the intricacy of the company’s artform, the all-ages opening night audience is audibly astounded by the range of tricks that showcase the agility, strength and skill of the company’s performers. With hoop diving, towering hand balances, aerial hoops and silks amongst others, there is much to awe over. Of particular note are a triple trapeze act and a late-show multi-person Chinese pole routine that sees a performer balance momentarily unattached on the mid-air outstretched body of another. Whether it be by occurrence on a see-saw, in interaction with a runaway tyre or taking jump-rope to new heights, movement is integrated so as to feel like more than just a stunt. And when lights go out things really sparkle courtesy of some neon juggling pins. 

More than a typical circus show of skills, “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show”, which is created and directed by Yaron Lifschitz is about character connection and Circa’s performers embrace this distinction with their every gesture and facial expression. And, of course, the splats and spills for comic effect are appreciated by children in the audience. The physical slapstick comedy of the postman in interaction with a pesky, protective dog creates a comedy highlight for these younger audience members. The functional, but still detailed costumes of the excited high-tailed sheepdog Bitzer and alike, meanwhile, are appreciated by all.

While the show’s creatives have crafted an abundant visual spectacle, this is enhanced by wit that is all the more appreciated though the show’s lack of verbal communication (apart from some gibberish speech from the farmer and the postman, as it would be from the perspective of our protagonist animals). There is still, however, a break in the fourth wall by the Farmer, to engender some audience participation and emotive ‘baas’ of appropriate exclamation from the sheep. The resulting largely-visual humour is such that it can be appreciated by both young and older audience members alike through, for example, a punny ‘A Star is Shorn’ solo section and a woeful animal attempt at creating their own claymation.

If modern circus portrays characters and tells stories, then “Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show” is modern circus at its playfully charming best. Indeed, the heart-warming show is shear brilliance, experience of which is the gift that keeps giving in recollection of feats displayed with a deceptive appearance of ease.

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