Thursday, March 9
Prior to seeing Nights at The Circus at the Warwick Arts Centre I was intrigued to how such a surreal and magical novel could be transferred to the stage. However, I am pleased to say that I certainly wasn’t disappointed and that the play was just as vivid and colourful, humourous and disturbing as Angela Carter’s novel.
Natalia Tena who plays Fevvers the ‘Cockney Venus’ is just I imagined her to be. Both vulgar and alluring in equal doses.
Her trapeze routines are well choreographed and her ability to sing in both an extremely quiet and childlike voice (as at the start of the play) and in a loud cockney slur highlights that Fevvers is a complex character who knows when to turn on the charm and when to act innocently.
Tena is extremely convincing in this role and her costumes are certainly well thought out and daring. The fact that she is topless by the end of the play does not actually seem to be out of place after the wild carnival that unfurls once the characters arrive at the circus in St Petersburg.
In fact all of the roles are well acted and it was rather bizarre to see that there were only actually eight people in the entire cast when they came on at the end for the final bow. They created the illusion of there being a much larger cast.
The idea of having Lizzie played by a man is an inspired one considering that Liz hates all men and sings songs about how to crush them – a nice irony. Liz, played by Carl Grose is half pantomime dame, half inspector Clouseau (you’d have to see the play to understand this really.)
Amanda Lawrence who plays Ma Nelson, and Mignon shows her versatility as an actress as they are completely contrasting roles and her song with the Princess of Abyssinia is one of the most touching moments in a play which is as wildly unpredictable as the novel. Walser the journalist is shown as being refreshingly naive in a world of chaos. The idea of him starting off sitting in the audience reviewing the play is a nice touch.
The most disturbing scene in the play is when Buffo the Clown sings a song about how he beats his wife Mignon (who is later liberated from this awful alliance). The audience are shocked, afraid to laugh at the seemingly humorous take on an extremely sensitive subject.
The character who gets the biggest amount of laughs is the outrageous American Colonel Kearney and his pig Sybil. Well, actually, maybe it’s his hand puppet pig which gets the most laughs.
There are other puppets used throughout the play such as the one used to demonstrate how Fevvers learned to fly. Through the use of clever lighting and atmospheric music this helps the audience to imagine the scenario. Also the idea of the tiger masks with glowing lights and the use of saws to represent their growling is very clever.
Emma Rice has certainly found a way of portraying the most fantastical parts of the plot effectively and Nights at The Circus is a production which shows no limitations and pushes the boundaries of the Theatre.