Saturday, 29 September 2012

Jenna & Paul Go To The Circus

Never, in all my 23 years, have I been to a circus. Until tonight.

Without really knowing what to expect, short of the stereotypical images that jump to mind of clowns falling over one another and men in Victorian bathing suits, I accompanied my friend Paul to watch the Netherlands National Circus who had set up shop at Tatton Park. The big-top was oppressively empty of customers; I couldn't shake the feeling of how soul-crushingly disheartening a sight that must be to the performers. Applause is still applause but it doesn't ring quite the same when it's a few dozen people, rather than a few hundred. With this in mind, I appreciated the level of effort and enthusiasm they maintained. All sweat, smiles, cheering and bows whilst spinning through the air or bending themselves into peculiar shapes. Quite predictably, my favourite acts were gymnastic and acrobatic (I was glued to the gymnastics coverage during London 2012).

The clown (who appeared to have taken on the role I previously understood belonged to the ring-master) was completely insufferable. Without having an extensive knowledge and comparison base for clowns, I have no idea whether they are supposed to be as eye-twitchingly annoying as this one. He had the look of a man who had been rejected as a stand-in for Nathan Lane... on multiple occasions. Despite being completely overwhelmed by second-hand embarrassment by the clown's presence; he was also the reason I laughed so hard I felt as though my lungs would burst. Great! You'd think? In a somewhat ghoulish turn of events, we witnessed said clown fake-murder four people who were fake-making a film about a fake-husband catching his fake-wife with another man. The "volunteers" (at least one, possibly two audience plants) lay on the red mats of the ring, sprawled out in their best amateur-dying attempts. The clown fell to his knees over the woman who was wrapped in pink feather boas. He let out a piercing and chilling wail of dispair and waved his hands in the air before placing the fake-gun at his temple & taking a shot. The lights went out. Paul & I looked at each other in horror and surprise & simultaneously came to the conclusion that this was comedy genius. Something in that clown's desperate last moments was so funny we couldn't breathe.

This seemed to reflect the odd atmosphere of the circus. There was an air of a Lynchian dream sequence. The red lights and music reminded me of the Hotel Paradiso. Even more pervasive was the feeling of sadness. There were a few falls and a few missed targets, which were entirely forgiven as these people are so much stronger and more talented than I am, but the sadness lay in the details. Some of the costumes didn't quite fit, like they'd been made when the performers were smaller or had been adapted for them from someone else's old wardrobe. The blacks and whites had all become grey from years of repeated washing. The performers must work incredibly hard, travelling through Europe, to be greeted by mediocre crowds.

I am almost certain that if the big-top had been full of customers, wide-eyed & giggling children, the atmosphere would have been fun and mischievous  It seems a shame that the circus doesn't have the same draw that it must have done at some point in the past.

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