REVIEW: Winter Circus 2017

Snow is falling, and snowballs are flying, all around us, so it is with some relief that I leave the icy temperature of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter behind for the relative warmth of the recently-raised Big Top in the usually quite barren Writers' Square. Where inside, it is, and will be, anything but barren.

For this is the Tumble Circus's Winter Circus, where Ireland's Ken Fanning and Sweden's Tina Segner, or Ken Evil and Tina Machina as they would rather be known on stage, have concocted a show laden with acrobatics, tightrope-walking, trapezes, hula hoops, ballet and slapstick humour. Basically, as much essential fun as they can wring from the two-and-a-half century old circus tropes, without the animals, in roughly an hour and a quarter, with their game and more-than-able colleagues Angelique, Henrik, Ally and the artist only known to me as "Bucky".

The same Bucky who, I believe, is dragged up as a cheerleader and mingling with the audience before the show even begins. Weird, but more tastefully weird, not unlike panto. What's that? Oh no, it isn't? Oh yes, it is. And you can bet that joke will be raised at least once in the course of this early evening, family-friendly performance, one of two options punters have to choose from during the run of the circus. (The other is a later-evening cabaret on Fridays and Saturdays hosted by Leonie Pony from Ponydance.)

The Tumble Circus crew begin bonding with a "hammer". Not to hit each other with, mind, but to act as a gimmick by which charades and more down-to-earth clowning and movement can be triggered and maintained. The stripped back appeal of this troupe is both visual and physical without drawing too much attention to aesthetics, the "hammer" acting as a ball to catch, a trophy to lift and an object to swing around heads.

It gets better. Tina "more flexible than a flat pack table and chairs from Ikea" Machina dons a helmet and leather jacket as a motorbike revs offstage, a way of gearing us up for her titular tumble from a red sash tied to the roof of the tent. Soundtracked by Johnny Cash's "Hurt", we feel no hurt in the course of the stunt, only awe at this hugely talented woman's bravery, physique and defiance.

Angelique's closer-to-the-ground tightrope walking impresses in other ways. Even a wobbling rope, a light turning off, and all kinds of confectionery being thrown in her direction does not distract her, her concentration in walking, slinking and dynamically dancing back and forth pure and absolute. It is an immensely admirable feat of control and balance.

Mood whiplash ahoy as classical and Christmas music, grace and mirth, are fused together for "something a bit stupid" as our hosts say: Captain Bucky (not O'Hare) toying with and being swallowed up by a giant pink balloon. Judging by his struggle to get out of it, I can only assume it was built like a huge stress ball. It is a crazy sketch, but it's extraordinary, uplifting and very entertaining.

As far as madness goes, however, I don't think it has anything on the hyperactive Nativity – featuring baby doll, three "kings", star and all – with an anti-evolutionary placard floating on stage and around the crowd!

Further sketches and showcases too numerous to mention, featuring trapezes, hula hoops, ballet and even more impressive balancing acts, cement the Winter Circus's success at being as theatrically nutty and physically nimble as circus can be. But perhaps its biggest attraction is how relaxed the Tumble Circus seem in what they do and, more remarkably, how they do it – the show is neither too silly nor too complicated, just well-played human showiness with panto elements. In other words, a nice reminder of the appeal of the circus, and an equally pleasant Christmas present for kids and adults alike.

Simon Fallaha

The Tumble Circus's Winter Circus runs until December 28 in the Big Top, Writer's Square, Belfast. For tickets and more information check out

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