If you’re in the capital this month, you’re perfectly placed to see one of these fabulous circus shows.
The double Olivier Award-winning variety show is coming to the run of its latest run in London, the city where it first began. You have until Saturday to check out a company which includes amazing acrobats The English Gents, hilarious contortionist Captain Frodo, high-heeled trapeze artist Jarred Dewey before it leaves its spiritual home.
The final show is on January 8 and more information can be found on the official website. Meantime, here is what Hamish McCann, one half of the Gents, gets up to on the Chinese pole.
NoFit State’s Bianco is a unique circus show which is less about sit-and-watch, more about stand-and-gawp. To the sound of a live band, the audience are led around the big top as numerous spectacular acts happen in front, around and above them.
Bianco runs until 22 January on the South Bank and more information can be found on the official website. Here is a taster of their show from their New York run in May 2016.
Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna
The biggest brand name in modern circus touches down again at the Royal Albert Hall with an updated version of their 2016 extravaganza. Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Amaluna’s storyline revolves around a group of men who, during a storm, find themselves washed up on an island governed by goddesses. Unsurprisingly, love and acrobatics ensue. The show is notable for having a cast that is 70% female.
Amaluna runs from 12 January through to 26 February and more information can be found on the official website. Here is the official trailer.
This year’s Vaults Festival features Chivaree Circus who bring their debut show Becoming Shades to one of most exciting performance spaces around under Waterloo station. A re-imagining of the classic myth of Persephone told through contemporary circus, this London-based troupe take inspiration from the words of James Joyce for a production which brings together live music, aerial acrobatics, fire, dance and mime, Becoming Shades is a story of empowerment, love and choices.
The show runs from 25-29 January and more information can be found on the official website. Here is the official trailer.
Last Christmas, we gave you our heart*. This Christmas, we have something else in mind.
Put down that mince pie, switch off the TV for a few minutes and watch this. Yes, now. We’ll keep this short as you probably have oodles to do like Snapchatting your Christmas jumper, opening that cheeky red from the banks of Lake Aldi or wondering when the Bond film will start.
2016 was a desperately sad one on the musical icon front. And the film and TV icon front. As well as the EU referendum front. Plus the US Presidential elections front. Let’s be honest: by December, we pretty much ran out of fronts to be happy about.
The good news is that Lolo Brow, London’s favourite burlesque/drag superstar, has a special message for you. Earlier this year, she won the top prize at the inaugural Burlesque Awards and, between appearances in the sell-out Family Fierce panto, she found time to make us this exclusive video. In this most tumultuous of years, she has prepared something which comes straight from the heart, the head and the liver. So what does she have to say about it all? Roll VT to find out.
* We later found out that the very next day you gave it away. Looks like we’re not the only one that is heartless.
“Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.” Alan Moore, Watchmen
As the more astute amongst you may have noticed, this is the party season. We would normally be happy pointing out where one can let their hair down as they see in 2017 but there are more important things we could be talking about.
Between the double whammy of the Christmas festivities and New Year’s Eve, there’s plenty of social pressure to put on a big fat smile and be jolly. Don’t you dare appear unhappy or lonely or The Grinch will eat you up whole.
Unfortunately, the dark clouds of winter are not just up in the sky. Gloomy thoughts are not uncommon, nor are feelings of loneliness, loss or failure. For those suffering from depression, this season can seem one long endless night with only the black dog for company.
We won’t pretend there’s a magic cure for any of that but, if it sounds like we’re describing you, talk to someone if you can. Drop us a message in the comments if you want. This may be a website but it is staffed and read by flesh-and-blood human beings. That first step will likely be the hardest but could bring the greatest reward.
This Christmas and New Year’s Eve, whether you’re in company or not, don’t feel that you’re alone in feeling alone. There are many organisations out there that will be glad to talk to you. Here are a few that we can recommend. Please let us know if there are others that should be added.
MIND is an organisation that aims to make sure nobody has to face a mental health problem by themselves. The MIND infoline is 0300 123 3393.
It’s an old cliche perhaps to call a Samaritan, but then the Samaritans do such wonderful work. You can talk to them around the clock on 116 123. You can ring that number from landlines and mobiles, and has two main advantages: first, that it is free to call and, second, that it won’t show up on phone bills. You can also just send them an email, and be as anonymous as you need to be. Even if it’s just to say hello. Mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and someone will reply.
The Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline is staffed by volunteers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. They will listen to anything that is on your mind and have information on LGBT support and social groups. They can be contacted on 0300 330 0630 from 10am-10pm and you can also email and message them.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, aimed at young men feeling unhappy. It has a web chat service, and freephone phone lines. You can find its website here.
PAPYRUS is a group that supports teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal. You can call them on 0800 068 4141.
Walking into NoFit State Circus’s Big Top tent and my immediate reaction is “how beautiful!”. In the early afternoon before performance, the empty space is crackling with the atmosphere of things to come.
I’m here for a workshop with Cardiff-based company, NoFit State, whose tent for the contemporary circus show Bianco has landed, spaceship-like, in the Winter Festival at the Southbank. Inside the big top, it is more like one of the gorgeous aliens from new sci-fi flick Arrival: scaffold-like metallic arms stretch upwards, challenging and inviting interaction.
Before I try the counterweight ropes by climbing up these same scaffolds and attempting juggling and hula hooping, I meet Lyndall Merry, head of rigging and performer (trapeze) and the architect of the tent I’m gazing at.
Merry tells me that I am not the only fan of the intricate rigging and I ask where the inspiration for the elaborate setup came from.
The answer he says, is constant collaboration between long-standing NoFit State director, Firenza Guidi, and the riggers. It is Lyndall’s job to translate creative ideas into practice but sometimes they simply don’t happen. This is either because “technical implications far outweigh the benefit of the image” – the classic tension in the creative process between concept and its execution – or, less glamorously, because of safety.
It is this latter aspect that is at the heart of how they operate – something that is not surprising for the dangers inherent in circus – but more interesting is how enthusiastic he is to talk about safety’s role in the creative process.
“There are shows that run on a big production scale and they don’t want their artists to have any information in their brains, because they want their artist to be the best they can possibly be as artists,” he says.
NoFit State takes a contrary view. Their performers must have an in-depth working knowledge of their equipment and the risks across the range of what they are asked to do. During each performance of Bianco, the acrobats double up as performing artists and technical crew: they set up the technical cues, push scenery around the tent and act as counterweights for acrobats.
“The performance exposes the risk.”
This approach to laying bare their show’s innards is to the team an essential aspect of circus, demonstrating the trust and the community element and it is part of the magic for performers and for the audience watching it. “The performance exposes the risk,” explains Lyndall. “And the fact that people do extraordinary things that are risky and but are doing them without bad consequences, that’s the thrill that’s what makes it entertainment.”
“A lot of [our reviews] talk about the feeling of community and support in among the tent that is there between the performers. It’s very much part of the magic of this aesthetic,” he adds.
Circus has actually become safer over the years, even as the creativity and feats have become more inventive. According to technical production manager John Kirk, this is because safety and creativity now work alongside each other whereas, in the past, the two worlds have been very much separate.
For each intricate and considered vision of creativity, there has to be a structure to back it up. Lyndall tells me of examples like “using rigging made of chocolate,” or “making water flow uphill” that he might be asked to create, illustrating the challenge and the ingenuity in his role that is as significant as that required by other members of NoFit State.
Aside from insight into how Bianco’s big top experience has come together, the workshop itself gives me a fine idea of my physical limits and but there’s not enough time to really explore them. We can’t all be in the circus, but we can enjoy feeling part of it in a style that puts us in the thick of it, and which exposes the guts as well as the glory.
In March, the festival announced that they had been successful in a bid to secure funding from Arts Council England. Believed to be the first time that ACE has contributed to an event of this kind, the grant was used to fund an outstanding series of shows which featured local, UK and international talent including American superstar Perle Noire. At The Burlesque Awards in London this September, the festival was named the Best Festival/Event.
HBBF is now established as one of the highlights of the UK cabaret calendar and it is a shining light in the Yorkshire burlesque revolution which has seen brilliant new shows appear in Sheffield and Leeds. The 2017 festival will take place over 27-30 April 2017 and, while, the full-line up won’t be revealed for another couple of weeks, the veil has been lifted on the show schedule.
All shows will be at Hebden Bridge’s Little Theatre unless otherwise stated.
Turn up at 7.30pm for the latest Legend In The Making competition. This may be for newer performers but the talent levels among last year’s contestants were impressive and the bill featured an international cast; last year’s winner, boylesquer Uma Shadow, came all the way from Las Vegas and is coming all the way back to hand the crown onto the 2017 winner. The fun continues at 10.15pm with a new show called The Late Night Quickie, a dark and dangerous hour of envelope-pushing cabaret.
Get that Friday feeling at the 7.30pm show Laugh Your Knickers Off Comedy Cabaret and then stick around for the return of one of last year’s absolute highlights Diversitease at 10.30pm.
Kicking off at noon and back by popular demand is Tina T’urner Tea Lady with her own full-length solo show. That’s followed at 2.30pm by the much-anticipated debut by Kiki Lovechild and Pi The Mime. Kiki blew away last year’s audience with his moving and magical Sheets and he comes back with an award-winning London clown in the world premier of what is currently titled The Secret Circus Project By Kiki And Pi.
The biggest show of the weekend begins at 8pm when Todmorden Hippodrome is taken over for the Fifth Annual Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Gala. The line-ups have been spectacular in the past and we can’t wait to see who appears this time around.
Sundays are for relaxing and roasts, right? Wrong. The Hebden Bridge Town Hall will be hosting The Burlesque Bazaar from 11am-5pm while at 2pm there will be (given the history of the festival) a very relevant round table discussion of feminism and the politics of burlesque performance called “I Am Woman – Hear Me Phwoar” (venue TBA).
The festival goes out with a blast from 8pm with The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival International Showcase.
A limited number of weekend passes covering access to all ten events are available at £85 each (a saving of £37 based on buying individual tickets). Please note that this offer is only available to those who have purchased a Friends’ Membership; the weekend passes go on general sale from 15 December. The full line-up will be announced on 11 December and day passes and tickets to the various workshops will be on sale from 1 January 2017. More information on how to become a Friend of The Hebden Bridge Festival and these passes can be found on the official website.
For Bianco, audiences and apparatus both move around inside their tent to create a dynamic and distinctive environment. The Cardiff-based crew behind the show have been going for thirty years and always strive to produce innovative and exciting circus. I asked NoFitState’s Artistic Director Tom Rack why we should go to see their latest show and where it all went right for his company.
We’re very much looking forward to seeing the new and improved Bianco. For those like me who last saw it in the Roundhouse, how would you say that Bianco has changed? And where has that change come from?
If we don’t change the show every year, we will get tired of it. And if we are tired of it, then that’s not good for the public. Every season a few people come and go in the natural way of things, new people bring a different energy and new acts and we get to shake everything up to keep it all fresh and exciting for both ourselves and the audience.
Bianco at the Roundhouse was nearly four years ago and, since the very beginning of this show’s journey, it has evolved a lot, new music, new acts, new people but it still has the same spirit and the same structure. It’s still Bianco but grown and matured with age and a lot of hard work.
NoFit State has reached the grand old age of 30. What would you say were the turning points for yourselves as a company? Were they down more to circumstances, strokes of luck or new ideas?
In 1995, we did our first promenade show Autogeddonand this was the first time we worked with director Firenza Guidi. It was a big but low-budget circus show in a warehouse which gave us both lots of ideas and food for thought for when we came back together in 2004 for our first touring show ImMortal.
It was the beginning of the long and close collaboration that has got us where we are today. Having said that, we also owe a debt to Mrs Thatcher and Mr Tebbit who created the enterprise allowance scheme; it allowed us to get young people off the dole figures. In those days there were no circus schools, we learnt our craft on the streets and, without their help, we wouldn’t have survived.
NoFit State’s works have been described for over a decade as “no ordinary circus”. That makes for a sexy tagline but is it something that forces you to think more out of the box when it comes to devising productions?
I think when you surround yourself with extraordinary people, the only thing that is impossible is to be ordinary.
It’s not possible to keep circus people in any kind of box and everyone we work with inspires us to do something a bit different and to push at what’s possible. In these circumstances, innovation and originality are inevitable. The day we become ordinary is the day we fail.
Bianco has many forward-thinking concepts, not least being a dynamic promenade experience with a live band playing an original score. How are the core concepts formulated for each show? Is it wholly collaborative or does one person take the lead? Has that process changed over time?
For Bianco, the initial concepts come from Firenza who will first propose a scrapbook of ideas and images, concepts and pretexts. Then the creative team all joins in to interpret them and propose different ways they can be developed and realised.
From there, the designs and manifestations are developed and delivered and the individual artists become involved. Firenza will give them impulses or problems that they use to create the dramaturgy and chorography of their act.
Firenza very much takes the lead but it is a massive combined effort that gets it all into place.
We live in austere times so why should people go out of their way to see a circus show now of all times?
Even the Romans believed in this: “two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”
We like to think there is something for everybody in our work, it can be enjoyed and appreciated on every level by everybody. Circus can gives you thrills, lifts your spirits and make your heart race, make you feel alive. But done right it can also touch your soul and let you escape. And who doesn’t need that?
Please settle a bet. Is the name of your company a play on words along the lines of Moscow State Circus or something to do with the condition of the circus artists in the company?
The honest answer is both. Thirty years ago, it was about street performing, festivals and clubs and everything that went along with that. Late one night, we were trying to come up with our name and we looked at other circus names. There was Moscow State, Chinese State and the Netherlands State all working the circuit and the idea of being NoFit State made us giggle and it stuck. These days, though, the culture of the company is very different and I still like to think we are Not in a Fit State to be mainstream and our anarchist spirit is still alive and gets out now and again.
Bianco continues until 22 January 2017 on the South Bank. Tickets are £25-£39.50. More information can be found on the Southbank Centre website.
Remember, remember, November is always full of great cabaret. Forget those loud, empty bangs overhead: for real fireworks, check out these five shows.
TUESDAY: Meow Meow, Royal Festival Hall
The Australian siren dazzled this summer at the Brighton Fringe and in the Emma Rice-directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC. This week, she is back on the South Bank in the company of piano virtuoso Thomas M Lauderdale, and trio Pink Martini and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Operatic cabaret divas are not a rarity, even in the UK, but none do it as well as Meow Meow.
1 November. Royal Festival Hall. Doors open 7:30pm. Tickets £25-45. More information
WEDNESDAY: Holly Penfield’s The Rhythm Of Life, Royal Vauxhall Tavern
Straight outta San Fran, Holly Penfield takes over the RVT for one night only as she sings a medley of her own songs interspersed with that of the iconic actress and singer Judy Garland. Penfield’s career is already five albums deep and the American songbird shows no signs of letting up on her breathtaking performances. We’ll be there as long as she promises to leave the horsewhip at home this time.
2 November. Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Doors open 8pm. Tickets £15 (reserved seating) £10 (general seating). More information
THURSDAY: Barelesque 11: Weird Science, Royal Vauxhall Tavern
A TIC favourite, Barelesque only pops up a few times a year so we recommend you grab your chance to see their shows when you can. Part kooky and kinky burlesque/variety show, part charity auction, the show has raised thousands for the Albert Kennedy Trust making sure that homeless LGBT youth have a roof over their heads. Oh, and you get to see the awe-inspiring and award-nominated video burlesque artiste Ana Morphic and her co-founders Tallulah Van Leer and Honey Schnapps (pictured above).
3 November. Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Doors open 7pm. Tickets £10-£35. More information
4 November. Hackney Empire. Doors open 7.30pm. Tickets £10-£35. More information
FRIDAY: Peacock Butch, Resistance Gallery
Describing itself as “a new queer clubbing experience”, this collaboration between bodypainter extraordinaire Victoria Gugenheim and Lucha Britannia’s Garry Vanderhone encourages every flavour of sexuality and gender expression to come on down and flaunt their beautiful selves. There will be live performance from alt-burlesquer and make-up genius Marnie Scarlet as well as a make-up artist on hand to help put that look together.
4 November, Resistance Gallery. Doors open 9pm. £5/£3 (students/extremely fabulous creatures). More information
Image: Barelesque co-founders Ana Morphic, Tallulah Van Leer and Honey Schnapps
Organised by Agent Burlieque and Burlesque Bible, tomorrow night sees the first Burlesque Awards with ten star acts scheduled to perform.
The votes have been gathered and counted, the trophies have been polished and on Wednesday, the Burlesque Awards (hosted by Reuben Kaye, above) will be handed out to an international array of stars.
It will not only be individual performers that are recognised but troupes and shows too. Past performers will be recognised with an “Inspiration From The Past” award and there are separate prizes for boylesque and burlesque dancers as well for best festival and best competition.
There will also be specialist awards for Best Gender Bending Performer (sponsored by This Is Cabaret) as well as Best Compere, Best Costumier and Best Political Voice.
A distinguished panel of judges (photographers Neil Kendall and Suelan Allison, producers Saph Rox and Vivacity Bliss and This Is Cabaret’s editor-in-chief Franco Milazzo) have picked twelve performers for the grand prize of Best Burlesquer 2016, ten of which will perform on the night. The breadth and depth of talent for this award is a true testimony to the current quality of the UK burlesque scene and includes video projection artiste Ana Morphic, the multi-talented Fancy Chance and the latex-loving Marnie Scarlet.
The chosen dozen are:
Dave The Bear
Velma Von Bon Bon
* not performing
The Awards take place at Proud Cabaret. Doors open at 7 and the action kicks off at 8pm. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.
Some tickets are still available and information on location, ticket prices and their availability can be found here.
Next month sees the launch of the 2017 All Nude Cabaret Charity Calendar in aid of Cabaret vs Cancer and, once again, we have exclusive images from behind the scenes.
For the last four years, the fundraising campaign spearheaded by Rose Thorne has put together an annual calendar featuring many of London’s finest cabaret folk. A dozen acts the worlds of magic, sideshow, burlesque, drag, spoken word and musical comedy have stepped forward and stripped naked before Sin Bozkurt’s lens. Cabaret vs Cancer is a registered charity which has donated £18,000 over the last three years. The charity awards grants to Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK as well as St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney.
Among the faces appearing in the 2017 edition are London-based burlesque troupe The Folly Mixtures. “We are thrilled to have been asked to feature in the next Cabaret vs Cancer calendar,” they said. “The shoot was so much fun! We obviously love prancing around in very little, so the naked part wasn’t really an issue for us. It was so great to know we are are doing just a little bit to help this amazing cause at the same time.”
These days, there are seventeen Folly Mixtures in total and cancer is a subject close to their hearts. “It has affected every single one of us in one way or another through either losing a close family member, seeing a friend’s family go through the toughest of times or celebrating with someone who has beaten it and come through the other side. For that reason alone, we are proud to be involved. Rose and her team are doing the most wonderful work and the calendar is guaranteed to make you smile every time you turn the page to the next month. Treat yourself and we will be giving you a cheeky wink in February!”
The shots below, taken by Sin Bozkurt and exclusively provided to This Is Cabaret, feature ten of The Folly Mixtures: Angie Sylvia, Demi Noire, Didi Derriere, Ella Boo, Lola La Pearl, Lolo Pop, Ooh La Lou, Ri Ri Caboose, Ruby Risque, Sally “Oh” Spitfire and Storm Hooper.
Those appearing alongside The Folly Mixtures include veteran compère and Cabaret vs Cancer trustee Dusty Limits, Bar Wotever host Mysti Vine, East End drag legend Jonny Woo, fire-breather Heavy Metal Pete and video confabulists Duo Bogof.
Here is the full list of entries for next year’s calendar:
January: La Poule Plombée
February: The Folly Mixtures
March: Ruth Less
April: Marisa Carnesky
May: Duo Bogof
June: Mysti Vine
August: Jonny Woo
September: Luna Rosa
October: Dusty Limits
November: Havana Hurricane
December: Heavy Metal Pete
The winner will receive a pair of standard tickets to Magmanus’ Attached which runs on September 22/23/24 at Straford Circus. For full details on on the event, see here.
The competition’s deadline is 9am on Monday 19 September 2016. This Is Cabaret will choose one winner at random and contact them by email with details on how to redeem their prize. By submitting an entry to this competition you confirm that you are at least 18 years old and have read and accepted our Terms and Conditions.