LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cirque Bijou brings exciting new show Source to London this summer. Artristic director Billy Alwen talks about it.

They say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, and perhaps you shouldn't judge a circus by its elevator speech. But some shows simply have a concept that instantly makes you think, hey, that sounds good, I'd like to see that; while the blurb for others can be an instant turn off.

Last year's Timber! by Cirque Alfonse was the perfect example of a show with a winning premise. Its two-word description, "lumberjack circus," tells you everything you need to know, and there's an obvious link between the theme and circus' repertoire of tricks: Russian bar performed on planks, juggling with axes, jumping through barrel hoops, whip cracking... Throw in a photo of bearded performers in long johns and braces and you can tell the show will be a hoot - which it was. (Click here for more)

This year's production of Rime by Square Peg has a similarly strong concept. I haven't seen the show, so can't say how well it realises Coolridge's epic poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but it's easy to imagine how naturally a story set on a sailing ship might translate to an open-air circus show with performers swinging about on ropes and masts.

The latest show with a theme that's really caught my eye is Source, a new street circus show by Cirque Bijou. The concept?

When London’s sewers and underground system were first created, six tunnellers were sent underground in a secret mission to find and save the sources of London’s rivers before they became buried forever. Now, 158 years later, during building works for London’s new super-sewer, these curious long-forgotten tunnellers emerge, travelling with their giant mobile water-spurting laboratory in a burst of song, dance and acrobatic displays. 

According to artistic director Billy Alwen: "I’d had the idea for a while about doing a show about hidden underground rivers in London. I think people often forget that these rivers exist. Some of them have been concreted over and some have been diverted underground. I thought it was a very rich theme, particularly as there are plans at this point in time to completely renew the sewer system under London at huge expense, and there’s a whole discussion about why that needs to happen. I wanted to bring the under world back above the ground.

"We made seven human powered machines for the Olympics and because they cost a fair amount to make, we always said we wanted to use them again. So one of them is going to be re-used as our tunnelling machine. So this machine will effectively be the stage, the set and the PA system for the show. All the circus will happen around that machine, and then that machine will travel around from one venue to the other. 

"Circus is very difficult to put on outdoors with all the rigging you need for trapeze, so I wanted to make a show that was self-contained and didn’t need lots of rigs and equipment. We wanted to be able to put one plug into the wall and be ready to go."

If the above whets your appetite, you can catch Source free of charge in the following London locations:

Millfield Arts Centre 26th July

Tara Arts 16th August

Harrow Arts Centre 23rd August

Arts Depot 30th August

Watermans 13th September

The Albany 4th October

Cirque Bijou light up the sky
suspended from a crane.
Cirque Bijou, incidentally, is a company with a small name and a penchant for BIG stunts, such as flying UFOs above the audience and marching giant robots across the stage at Muse concerts. Their outdoor crane shows, featuring trapeze artists tumbling within giant hoops of fire while fireworks whiz all around them are truly spectacular.

Definitely a circus company to look out for.

"I loved this book."
- 5-star Amazon customer
For more on narrative circus and the ways circus and theatre can be merged to great effect - or not, as is the case with some shows - read my journey through Britain's ever changing, never changing circus scene, from traditional big top and sawdust shows to the Circus of Horrors, musical clowns The Chipolatas, Spain's Circ Panic, Australia's Circa and all stops in between, in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Click here to read the customer reviews on Amazon.

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