Saturday, 1 November 2014

Chapter 46: Trick or treat?!

So let me tell you about last night. It was Halloween. While a couple of glasses of red wine touched lips in the hall, I donned a mask and slid into the night on the arm of a gentleman in a black velvet frock coat and silk satin shirt. The entertainment that followed involved a naked torso, a number of threesomes and plenty of whip-cracking. Eyes Wide Shut yet?! Welcome to my world. Trick or treating with the family, then an evening at the Moscow State Circus on Clapham Common. That's how we roll in Nappy Valley. 

We arrived at Clapham Common to find friends waiting at the entrance. The children raced around together in sheer joy and delight at the sight of the colourful circus tent, only stopping for popcorn, thankfully the salted variety after the sugar rush that is trick or treat. The doors opened and we flooded in to the two-tiered unreserved seating area, the majority being red plastic chairs, with a few rows in front of velvet-cushioned seats. I imagined the latter being filled back in the day with Kremlin officials and their families. You see, maybe it's the name "Moscow State Circus" but there is a sense of walking into some sort of socialist time warp (it's just a jump to the left...) back in the 80s. Maybe it's the bombastic music, the costumes, the lighting, the roller-skates ... even the audience clapping at the end is orchestrated by the performers to keep a steady beat so that no specific act is singled out by particularly fervent applause. We are all in this together, comrades.  

In the centre of the ring was a rather kitsch Venus de Milo statue. A replica from the real "Gorky Park" - also the name of the show - maybe? The show title brought to mind that 80s phenomena The Scorpions who sang "I follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park, listening to the wind of change".  The song celebrated the tide turning with the fall of the Berlin Wall (25th anniversary in November, guys), and the period of Glasnost and Perestroika that it heralded it. It was a big hit in Germany for sure. I know this because I was on a exchange trip there at the time, and the memory of a fortnight of teenagers earnestly singing about "the children of tomorrow" still haunts me. Still, I wondered at the statue's function, other than ornamental, until in stumbled a man with a plank, in a stripey top and a beret. Within seconds he had toppled the statue and was trying to piece it back together, this king of slapstick, Monsieur Val Defun, ouch la la! My son nudged me, delighted "I think we've found our clown, Mum." 

The first serious act was handstands. Now, the description "handstands" really wouldn't sell it to me.  But luckily the audience is invited to take (and share on social media) photos.  So I did. Here you go - gratuitous shot of a naked torso.  Only it's not gratuitous, not really. I took the picture out of pure (as the driven snow, honest guv) admiration for sheer strength and poise. I still cannot quite believe how long he held the positions. My son kept nudging me "Wow, just wow, Mum, can you believe this?"   And that was pretty much what happened the whole way through the show - we were open-mouthed in wonder at the skill and stamina of the performers.  There were the the jugglers tossing balls every which way, even from upside down on a pole, a dream of red satin gracing the air on a neck-loop, a scantily-clad triumvirate spinning on an aerial wheel, dizzying hula-hooping, soaring sommersaults through the air and captivating catches on trapeze, ("don't try that at home, will you Mum?!"), all set to anthems that if they weren't straight out of James Bond, like Live and Let Die, surely should be. The kids loved the Kozak whip-crackers, especially as the act subverted their expectation, as initially presented, that the man was in charge and the women was just his sidekick, and, when her skirt was whipped off, Mummy here thought it was a moment of pure Bucks Fizz Eurovision. The kids had to watch through their hands the "acrobatic soldiers"tumble off the Russian swing, while for me it was the roller-skating threesome doing staggeringly speedy tricks on a tiny platform.

The children's all-time favourite part of the show, though, was watching one of their own perform - a boy, earlier in the evening "picked" from the crowd, who at the end was dressed as a mini-me Defun, speeding round on a unicycle and whipping up the audience. The cast isn't huge by any standard, which made the variety and scope of their acts all the more impressive, and I felt rather gutted for these astonishing performers giving it their all, second show of the evening, to a half-full auditorium. Maybe it's because it's Halloween, but I for one was haunted by the empty seats. Then again, the programme was out-of-date, selling at only a couple of quid (reduced from £5) as they've run out of the current edition. That made me laugh. Looks like demand does outstrip supply after all. Good luck to them. 

Happy Families at the Moscow State Circus

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