Accomplished actors, acrobatic performers, dancers and musicians encapsulated courage in the face of the terrifying moral darkness of the Third Reich in a new musical in Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror at Bristol Old Vic.
It’s Brandenburg, 1933 and the Nazis grip is tightening on the population and wanting rid, or sterilised, those it doesn’t deem to fit perfectly in its new world order.
The disabled, the deaf, the neurodiverse, the so-called ‘useless-eaters’ oppressors demanded cleansed from society.
Extraordinary Bodies make up some of this amazing non-traditional circus company, who perform stunning aerial acrobatics – especially the amazing Jonny Leitch as Renee and Tilly Lee Kronick as Peter.
The two stars, Garry Robson, as circus master, channels the charisma of Ian Dury, all hard-nosed but increasingly aware of the price that will be paid for performing and cosying up to a regime that labels them freaks.
Abbie Purvis, as Krista, packs huge power into her diminutive frame falling in love with a would-be suitor who has family links to the fascists.
I liked Mirabelle Gremaud, as Queenie, whose lithe gymnastics and psychic-seeing gave out unheeded warnings.
She also doubled as Dr Margot Kruger, a doctor, determined to sterilise women she deemed unsuitable to become mothers.
Sweet, gentle Dora, played perfectly by Joanne Haines, juggled hats on stage and heart-tugging gentle response from the audience, while Raphaella Julien as Mash did the most amazing job, both speaking and using sign language – including the moving song about The Disappeared – a version of Pastor Niemoller’s poem asking just when do you take a stand?
Costume designs were drawn on early 20th century circus styles, with inspiration from Paul Poiret, the Ballets Russes and Picasso’s circus paintings.
A massive credit to percussionist Harriet Riley, Dave Johns on guitar and performer Jonny Leitch on drums as well as brilliant interpreter Max Marchewicz who was on stage virtually all night.
The play, written by Hattie Naylor and Jamie Beddard, has two very distinct halves, the first, which set the scene, had a lot going on, with circus acts and numerous characters introduced.
I preferred the second-half, with its darker undertones and feelings of imminent threat and mortal danger.
The finale had each actor coming forward, we find out what happened to them as a result of Hitler’s programme to purge Jews and anyone deemed a threat to Aryan genetic purity.
The Nazi Euthanasia Programme claimed the lives of an estimated 275,000 Germans alone.
Magic and terror at Old Vic circus
Some circus performers were smuggled out via networks of Paris and on to the safety of South America. Others did not survive.
This is a play giving a voice to those whose lives were pushed to the periphery of society and often silenced. It was moving, poignant story of courage, resistance and love in the face of hate.
Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror is on at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, April 1. For tickets and more information contact the box office Monday-Saturday between 1-6pm, call 0117 987 7877 or onlline at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.
REVIEW by Melanie Greenwood
PHOTOS: Paul Blakemore