Saturday, 3 January 2009


17/11/08, The Hippodrome
2hrs incl interval

The estate of John Philip Sousa is doing good business: the Hippodrome’s sound system (calibrated for clubbing) is blasting out his marches and other assorted circus music – including a ridiculously fast William Tell overture. An MC welcomes us, urges us to forget our English reserve and the wet Monday and to whoop and holler our appreciation, and to make extensive use of the bars. There is red lighting and red plush and fairy lights on the ceiling. The audience sits around a tiny red podium. Yes, there is a sense of anticipation and excitement, and a general air of circus sleaze.

It starts badly – an overweight Balkan (?) Elvis with a vaguely surreal but deeply unfunny song. It improves no end with the circus acts, which really are very good. The English Gentlemen – a pair of acrobats who strip at one stage to their Union Jack boxers, displaying quite amazing musculature. Mario the Queen of the Circus – juggler and Queen fan, a cod Spaniard in briefest of leather jackets and Village People cap. The man in the bath who swings elegantly and erotically over and through it from two leather straps, drenching those in the first couple of rows. Captain Frodo, a double-jointed Norwegian with a wispy beard who turns out to be very funny. The Russian girl who spins four hoops simultaneously round various limbs (she is beautiful, but utterly humourless). And Ursula Martinez, who performs a striptease while making a small red handkerchief appear and disappear with each disrobing. How does she do it? Where does she put it? Clearly not up her sleeve. Eventually, when entirely naked, she produces it from somewhere deeply intimate. She also does a comic song in the (weaker) second half, playing on her Spanish name and Croydon upbringing.

It’s all a witty and slightly naughty showcase for top-notch circus skills. Towards the end the audience are encouraged to sing along to Queen’s We are the Champions, waving their arms. They all did (I didn’t). Then Capt Frodo builds a pyramid of upturned bins of diminishing size, climbing onto each one in succession, asking us finally to marvel at the ridiculous way these people choose to earn their living.

Beforehand a dubious D had said she’d be happy provided nobody took their clothes off. They did, yet she was...

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