You’re either a circus person or you’re not. When I was young, I wanted to run away and join the circus. When Mrs C was young, she wanted to run away and join a group of travelling accountants. Well, neither of those stories are strictly true, but you get the picture of the difference between us. Last year we – I won’t say “enjoyed” – “witnessed” is perhaps more appropriate – the performance of the Chinese State Circus at the Derngate. Mrs C made me promise absolutely “No More Circuses” as a result. Trouble is, me and the Moscow State Circus go back a long way. I saw them when I was 10 at the Wembley Empire Pool (showing my age), and again in my early 20s at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road, and both occasions they had the legendary clown Oleg Popov, who really was amazing, and who I’m delighted to read is still going strong at the age of 81. So I hoped the passing months would eradicate the bad memory of the Chinese affair and I snuck in these tickets to the Moscow State Circus in the hope that She Wouldn’t Notice Until It Was Too Late.
The Moscow State Circus really is, and always has been in my book, a class above your average circus, and I’m delighted to say I feel my decision to book was fully justified in the light of last night’s performance – and not to say a little relieved. It’s not perfect by any means. Similar to the Chinese State Circus, they do for some reason feel compelled to structure the show around a rather artificial story. Babushkin’s Secret is based on the legend of the Twelve Chairs. You’re not familiar with it? You do surprise me. Whilst it does serve as a framework as such, the twist at the end of the story makes for a very disappointing punchline in circus terms. Much better simply to get on with doing what they do best – circus acts.
Our clowning hosts are Valerik (the straight man) and Valik (the red nosed one), in real life, Valery Kashkin and Valentina Rumyantseva. They strike up a good interaction with the audience and Valerik also proves himself very deft on the stepladder and with a spot of juggling. Comparisons with Popov would be odious, but I did laugh at them, and even Mrs C was occasionally wryly amused.
Taking the acts in order of performance, we had Yana Alieva’s wonderful hula hoop act, contorting herself in a revolving ring high above the stage; then one of the real highlights of the evening, the Four Vassilievs, who do a spectacular horizontal bar act. Two of the Vassilievs are basically used as bar stands, but it is Vassiliev #3 who does the leaping and twirling who has an extraordinary skill.
According to the programme, we should then have seen the “Fat Man” doing his Revolutions; but there was no fat man last night. Maybe he was off sick. Maybe he had lost weight, suggested Mrs C. Instead we had a bonus act of a couple of Wild West rodeo lassoers and whip-crackawayers. Not sure how they would have fitted in to Babushkin’s Sekret, but we’ll move on. They were excellent – and I recognised them later on as the Veslovskiys, headed by Gennadiy Veslovskiy, who did a thrilling rollerskating act.
Then it was the turn of Sasha Doktorov and Yulia Tsurikova, incredibly skilful gymnastic acrobats revolving high above the stage, a very controlled and strong couple. Next was the Rubtsovs Skakalki, a skipping act. It’s much better than it sounds, although to be honest, I felt that if you were a skipper of this level of ability, you probably could have made the act a little more interesting. That’s just me – I’m not over-experienced in the noble art of skipping. To come to terms with her excitement at this act Mrs C started searching her pockets for a dry-cleaning ticket to read.
The second half started with a probably my favourite of the night, High Jinks with Professor Bulakov. I thought it was going to be just another clownish pratfall type act, but it develops into an immensely skilful and funny trampolining act. Won’t give the game away, but do be careful if you’re sat in the front row! Vladimir Georgievskiy is the real Professor Bulakov, and I really loved his act.
Whilst Bulakov and Valerik drown away their sorrows over a bottle of vodka, Katiya Drozdova appears as the doll on the Music Box. This is another contortionist acrobatic act, and she’s highly skilful and watchable. Sasha Doktorov comes back to reach the Twelfth Chair – and it’s an awe-inspiring display of balance and strength. Finally the Rubtsovs came back doing their Flying Jesters routine, a lot of exciting tumbling and crowd pleasing acrobatics.
As we were leaving the theatre, Professor Bulakov was having his picture taken with loads of kids. I was officially jealous. The good news is that, on the strength of this performance, Mrs C said we can see another circus in 2014. If you like your circuses, this one’s a treat.