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CLOSE UP – Underbelly, Edinburgh.

web_Circa_SergioParra__69_560_350_60_c1“Have you ever felt an acrobat’s hands?”

Fast becoming an essential part of Edinburgh Fringe, is the modern circus scene. A far cry from painted clowns and abused animals of yore, acts such as Circa bring a cool, contemporary edge to their performance, and break down the boundaries between audience and acrobat.

The cast of four enthusiastically bound up the stairs, introducing themselves, inviting us to run our fingers over their palms, textured by years of friction. The theme for Close Up is a stripped-back circus, where nothing is hidden, where transitions between equipment are done in full view and nothing will be made to look any easier than it actually is. No glossing over the physical feats of endurance with artificial smiles. But to temper the occasional grimaces, there is humour, song and multitasking: it is in fact possible for a man to be a human climbing frame whilst singing and playing the guitar.

They balance on equipment, silhouetted against a massive backdrop screening slow-motion body shots: hands slamming into each other and blowing chalk into big bursting clouds; hand slapping onto abdominal muscles, the impact rippling across the skin. While none of them look especially built, the moody lighting catches their muscle structures at unusual angles, revealing just how strong they are.

We are treated to a variety of vertical feats: Both the aerial rope and Chinese pole elicit plenty of gasps with their death-defying climbs and drops, spinning and sliding downwards at alarming speed. They build a tower of chairs that would clatter down like matchsticks without the precise counterweight of the acrobats’ bodies. Their skill and physical agility is evident, but the mental fear that this could all go wrong (if not done properly) adds real tension to their performance. Nothing is taken for granted and we share in their success, both in the triumphant summit and the carefully engineered topple.

The only minor niggle is the running order: while the act with hoops is impressive, it seems an unusual choice to perform after some of their more jaw-dropping stunts. But still, a thoroughly enjoyable and mesmerising show.

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Reviewed 09/08/15

By Gail Bishop

5th – 31st August 2015
Underbelly George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD.

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