Last update less than

What's On


Circus Britannica

Published Wednesday 1 June 2011 at 16:24 by Anne Broom

Shaun McCarthy’s captivating and unusual, new play creates a disturbing world. It is a world within a world of circus magic, tawdry colour, noise and excitement, but a superficial world that fronts the reality of simmering tensions, political radicalism and conflict.

A scene from Circus Britannica at the Bike Shed, Exeter

A scene from Circus Britannica at the Bike Shed, Exeter Photo: Robert Darch

Astutely drawing a parallel with a country that is also trying to balance its books, for circus owner and ringmaster Sarah hard times and economic uncertainly entail compromise. The play makes no judgments, but presents facts, skillfully juxtaposing ideas and points of view.

Live music draws audiences into designer Becky Hawkins’ colourful set where an inventively created big top becomes a close-knit, familial world. Projected images ingeniously flesh out the story, while Elizabeth Westcott’s haunting and atmospheric music, played on sax and accordion by actors Joseph Carey and Andy Kelly, moves the tale along.

Director David Lockwood’s diverse yet believable ensemble keeps this overlong play focused, as amid the clowning and conjuring each character reveals their secret.

Jenny May Morgan invests tragic Jofranka with admirable veracity, as a compelling, damaged and frightened immigrant. Sophia Thierens’ Sarah, the circus owner and ringmaster, is a multifaceted, complex character who asks few questions, but is willing to take desperate measures to keep her show on the road.

Jos Vantyler’s Stevie joins the circus with bright-eyed, youthful optimism, while Andy Kelly finds gentle comedy in endearingly mismatched clown Besnik, who risked everything to come to England.

Tension is credibly built as dissent between Joseph Carey’s morose Zoltan and Tom Sherman’s bigoted Dave reaches flashpoint, culminating in strongly choreographed violent conflict.

Production information

Bike Shed, Exeter, May 31 - June 18, and Theatre 503, Battersea July 4-9

Shaun McCarthy
David Lockwood
The Bike Shed Theatre
Becky Hawkins
Andy Kelly, Tom Sherman, Jenny May Morgan, Sophia Thierens, Jos Vantyler, Joseph Carey
Running time:
2hrs 15mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

Search Amazon for Circus Britannica items Search for tickets at Ticketmaster

Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014