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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke

REVIEW: WALDO'S CIRCUS OF MAGIC & TERROR @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH

🎭 Waldo's Circus of Magic & Terror

📍 The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR

🗓 Wednesday 26th April 2023

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐.5

A SPLENDID, SPARKLING, SCINTILLATING SHOW FOR THE SENSES!


In a celebration of diversity and inclusivity, Extraordinary Bodies proudly combines the talents of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled artists to break boundaries and share important stories. Their latest show Waldo's Circus of Magic & Terror, which is co-produced with Theatre Royal Plymouth and Bristol Old Vic, is thrilling audiences in Plymouth this week.


The story opens in Brandenburg, Germany in 1933 against the backdrop of the rise of Nazi's as they rage their campaign of hate against anyone who is different from them. This musical is about so much more than circus skills. It delves into the characters behind the big top and looks at the impact the third reich has on them.


This show is unexpectedly hard-hitting and really shines a light on those oppressed by Hitler. We always think of the persecution of the Jewish and the gay communities by his regime, but we don't instantly think of the disabled community and how they were effected.

Throughout the performance we see characters join the Nazi party and turn their backs on friends and family in the name of Germany.


Waldo, portrayed by Garry Robson, is ringmaster and rules the circus with an iron fist. He is rather ruthless and his true character is somewhat harder than the persona he projects to his audiences. Even though he has a disability himself, he lies about the reasons behind it as he only looks out for himself and essentially throws the less abled members of his troupe under the bus. There is a moment of redemption, but is it too late? I enjoyed the way that he spoke in alliteration when introducing his acts.


Circus skills are obviously at the heart of the performance and there are some exceptional performances throughout. The piece between Johnny Leitch as Renee and Tilly Lee-Kronick as Peter can only be described as aerial artistry and Lawrence Swaddle as Gerhard also excelled as he showed off his skills.

The production celebrates disability and diversity in an unapologetic way which is refreshing to witness. Abbie Purvis gives a commanding performance as Krista and her love story with Gerhard is enchanting and captivating.


The piece also features deaf performers who communicate with BSL. The relationship between Mish and Mosh is wonderful and when Raphaella Julien performs a piece called The Disappeared purely in BSL the audience watched in awe at what was one of the most powerful moments of the entire performance. This happened at the most emotional part of the story and the silence was extremely powerful. The company then sang a song with the same name talking about the oppressed communities who were disappearing.


Written by Hattie Naylor and Jamie Beddard with an original score by Charles Hazlewood, it's hard to define a genre for this piece. Although there are some circus skills this is not a circus performance, and although the characters sing this is not a musical! It's the story here which is the driving force and the other elements are there to enhance and move the story on but are definitely not the focus of the production.

The great thing about this production is that every single performance is accessible. Every show is audio described, captioned and has a BSL interpreter (Max Marchewicz) who rather than being placed at the side of the stage, takes on a character of their own and is very much a part of the performance. The performances are also chilled which means that the auditorium lights remain on, although they are dimmed slightly. This allows for free movement should an audience member need to leave. You would think with all the press recently around audience behaviour that this would give people free rein to do what they like, but actually this was one of the best and most respectful audience experiences I've had recently.


I have seen a production from Extraordinary Bodies previously and although enjoyable, I felt that this piece was so much better. There is a lot more production behind this and the set and costume designs by Ti Green were wonderous. Married with lighting from Katy Morrison, choreography by Vikki Igbokwe-Ozoagu the show comes together beautifully. The direction by Billy Alwin, Claire Hodgson and Jenny Davis fills the stage fantastically well.


There were only a few minor issues that prevented me from giving a 5 star review. One is that whenever there are subtitles my eyes are automatically drawn to them so I end up reading along as the actors are speaking. This in itself is not an issue but I did find that quite regularly the words on the screen were quite different to those being spoken, with some things omitted completely and sentences on the screen that weren't spoken on the stage! Maybe the subtitles were taken from an early version of the script which had since been changed?

Also, perhaps selfishly, I would have liked to see a bit more of the circus skills. As the show has the word circus in the title and what they did do was absolutely phenomenal so I think it would have been great to see more of these skills. The ending of the story was understandably quite subdued so maybe a finale filled with circus skills would have worked well.


That being said, there is no denying how though provoking and moving this piece of theatre is and I would definitely like to see it again. As good theatre should, it raises discussions and makes you challenge yourself which is one of the things I love about shows like this.


Waldo's Circus of Magic & Terror continues at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 29th April and there are tickets available for all remaining performances. Head to www.theatreroyal.com to check availability and book tickets, where you'll also find a BSL flyer for the show.


To find out more about Extraordinary Bodies and their work, then click the link below.


Neill Kovacic-Clarke


All views are my own and I pride myself on being open, honest and free from influence.


My tickets for this performance were gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to review the production. The fact that my tickets were gifted played no part in my star rating for this review.

CAST LIST:

Abbie Purvis as Krista; Brooklyn Melvin as Mosh; Garry Robson as Waldo; Jack Reitman as Joseph Benowitz; Joanna Haines as Dora; Lawrence Swaddle as Gerhard; Mirabelle Gremaud as Dr Margot Krüger / Queenie; Raphaella Julien as Mish; Ryan Murphy as Darragh Finnegan; Tilly Lee-Kronick as Peter; Max Marchewicz as VIP / BSL Interpreter; Jonny Leitch as Renee / Drums; Harriet Riley as Band / Percussion; Dave 'Johnzy' Jones as Band / Assosiate Music Director


RUNNING TIME (approx):

2 hours 30 minutes, including interval


TRIGGER WARNINGS:

Death; Distress; Holocaust refrences; Hate crime; Discrimination against D/deaf, disabled, Jewish, Roma and gay people; Nazi symbols; Occasional bad language

The mission of Theatre Royal Plymouth is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the country's largest and most attended regional producing theatre.

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