Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is a production from Extraordinary Bodies, an integrated professional circus company formed by a partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City.
The show features a cast of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled artists and it’s a performance unlike no other we’ve seen on the Bristol Old Vic stage.
Set in Nazi Germany during 1933, it tells the story of a travelling circus troupe and how they are impacted by Adolf’s Hitler’s evil oppression.
In act one magic pervades the stage as the aerialists, acrobats and other performers showcase their skills in the incredible big top set designed by Ti Green. For the second half, the persecution by the Nazis of those who don’t fit with their plans intensifies and the magic is overtaken by terror.
Based on the experiences of real artists in 1930s Germany interspersed with a fictional tale written by Hattie Naylor and Jamie Beddard, Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is an extraordinary show.
The integration of disabled and non-disabled actors is outstanding with subtitles on screen throughout and the entire show signed by an on-stage British Sign Language (BSL) intepreter.
There are aerial performances which took our breath away and the terrifying depiction of the Nazi’s horrific tactics are very powerful.
The list of stand-out moments is plentiful including Raphaella Julien’s very moving BSL performance of ‘The Disappeared’, a contemporary version of a poem by Pastor Niemöller, who opposed the Nazi regime.
Raphaella also contributes to the humour that also features in the show. As Mish, she’s one half of an entertaining double act with Mosh (Brooklyn Melvin), quirky circus clowns who communicate through BSL.
Tilly Lee-Kronick as Peter, son of circus owner Waldo, stands out too. Driven by a rift with his father, who fails to give him the power he wants, Peter ends up joining the Nazis and persecutes the people he used to perform with.
There are some weaker moments when the production doesn’t quite jell but it’s still very worthy of four stars.
Theatre is there to tell powerful stories and teach us lessons. This show does that it in spades.
Theatre should also be accessible to all and Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is the most accessible we’ve ever seen. We can’t wait to see what Extraordinary Bodies does next.
Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is at Bristol Old Vic until 1 April 2023. All performances are chilled, BSL interpreted, captioned and audio described.
Images credit: Paul Blakemore