It must be tough running a circus in a PC world where (quite rightly) animals may not be exploited, and children are more interested in pixels than sawdust. No wonder so many have had to fold up their tents for the last time. So what happens to all those jugglers, strongmen, unicyclists, acrobats, and clowns pouring out of circus schools every year, looking for work?
Well, a most of them seem to be working for coins in The Royal Mile this month. But if they just got organised, they could find themselves in a troupe like Quebec’s Machine de Cirque, with a brilliant show like this one.
La Galerie is a showcase for these traditional skills, but brought up to date with a clever narrative: a group of sharply dressed critics are reviewing artworks in a gallery. Each artwork triggers a display of athletic, balletic or precision choreography. At one moment, sculptures are being juggled, at others, the critics have themselves become artworks, balancing precariously on high plinths or on each other. There is even a frantic tumbling routine over and around the kind of crowd control barriers you see in airports, as the critics try to get to the front of the queue.
The show is lifted further by a one-woman band who provides live saxophone, trumpet or multilingual vocal accompaniment while wandering in and out of scenes, as balls, planks and acrobats fly inches from her head.
The choreography is complex, and sometimes there is so much happening that several times I missed a breathtaking stunt having been caught up with some minute bit of business elsewhere on stage.
The tumbling critics are pretentious, but in their midst is a woman whose untrained eye can see beyond the pretension to recognise real beauty. She decides to create her own painting, which becomes a portal into another world. Here, she can interact with the subjects of the paintings (she has a wild party with the occupants of a Dutch Master, which involves huge quantities of popcorn). At the finale of the show, the woman completes her masterpiece using only her body (this is done, messily, every day, creating a unique artwork each time – one worries about Machine de Cirque’s dry cleaning bill).
This show is inventive, beautiful and thrilling, combining traditional physical prowess with theatre. La Galerie proves that circus has a future, even if circuses do not.
You can see La Galerie at Assembly Rooms – Music Hall until 25th August at 18:00. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com