Gandey World Class Productions
intu Trafford Centre, Trafford
The popularity of the circus has dimmed in recent years as concerns about animal welfare increase and the big top starts to seem old fashioned compared to other forms of entertainment. Carol and Phillip Gandey tackle this situation by merging theatrical elements into their Cirque Surreal. Indeed, this approach has been so successful that the last time Cirque Surreal played the Manchester area they were based at The Lowry.
That may have been a step too far and limited the daredevil antics of the performers. Now, with their current production Quirki, the company goes back to basics setting up a circus tent at intu Trafford Centre. The change in environment is a success—it is certainly more exciting watching a trio of motorcyclists driving full speed around a dome and coming within seconds of collision if you are seated ringside rather than in the theatre stalls.
There is an old-fashioned authenticity about Quirki. Prior to entering the tent, displays in the foyer include Victorian ‘curiosities’ such as a headless woman and a bodiless head. The tented environment makes it impossible to deny the reality of the risks taken by the performers—there is no net to break the fall of the acrobats and the smell of petrol and heat of the burning torches is all too apparent. There is a ‘steampunk’ atmosphere in the tent with the props used in the stunts having a rough, handmade look and the performers dashing around wearing aviator goggles and strips of leather.
Despite the name of the company, the content of the show is very much tilted towards the circus, rather than the surreal, aspects. Inflated billowing horses and a strange game of chess are the only elements that could be classed as surreal and seem intended to give the audience a chance to draw breath in-between the incredible stunts.
The theatrical elements—a framing sequence, suggesting the events are part of a tipsy museum guard’s drunken dream—are not entirely successful. Although the acts originate in Mexico, the framing sequence has an Egyptian theme which is never referred to again. A running gag about an escapologist whose act goes wrong only really works if you spot the visual punchline when leaving the venue.
However, the circus elements are more than sufficient to make Quirki a nail-biting success. The intimate venue, with audience and performers in such close proximity, makes it impossible to watch the stunts without sitting on the edge of your seat or uttering squeals of fright. We are heading towards the Halloween season so the timing is perfect for a show that ends with a recreation of the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ carnival. A contortionist is pretty much a one-man horror show—capable of twisting his head around, in the style of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. It is an act that is hard to watch without squirming in discomfort.
The performers are determined to push their luck to the limit. Not content with just walking a high wire, an acrobat introduces a further challenge by balancing a colleague on a pole on his shoulders. Naturally, she feels obliged to balance on a single leg. A pair of acrobats dashing around what looks like a gigantic hamster’s wheel spinning at great speed above the stage is impressive while they work inside the wheels. However when the duo balances on the outside of the device and go on to skip rope and even perform blindfolded, the tension becomes close to unbearable.
Some relief from the tension is provided by Chico Rico who, unlike most clowns, is genuinely funny and manages to find humour in unpromising routines. The routines, while original, have the feel of classic gags from the era of silent comedy.
Returning to their roots has revitalised Cirque Surreal and Quirki proves the circus can still dazzle and thrill audiences.
Reviewer: David Cunningham