There’s been a strong emphasis on circus at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, with the Big Sexy City Circus and Underbelly Circus Hub showcasing acts that will rekindle your childish desire to run away and join one.
With so many spectacular spectaculars on show, The Elephant in the Room, from Canadian/Belgian troupe Cirque Le Roux, distinguishes itself as a particularly stylish, cine-literate, and accessible entry into the genre. Katrina Conaglen spoke to two of the troupe – Philip Rosenberg and Gregory Arsenal – about their show.
In a set pulled straight from a 1940s noir movie, a bottle blonde bride (Lolita Costet) escapes her nuptials to rendezvous with a trio of ne’er do well men – one louche and lecherous (Philip Rosenberg), one a moustachioed man-giant (Yannick Thomas), the third a klutzy butler that makes Manuel from Fawlty Towers seem competent by comparison (Gregory Arsenal).Together they plot and connive, drink champagne, and play with poison.
The show is a combination of old school Hollywood glamour, acrobatic derring-do and slapstick pratfalls.
“We all love old cinema, the actors of the 1930s and 40s, when Hollywood was becoming a big deal,” Philip notes. “We love the influences of Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, Hitchcock, and Kubrick – there’s a little bit of that in there.”
Gregory agrees: “We watched a lot of movies, especially for the characters. For Lolita’s character, we looked at Gone Girl.”
Philip: “Yeah, these strong women that have these twisted sides to them. We really made it the goal to really have the audience really try to get to know our characters, and like us to a certain extent even if they hate the character. Like, to really love to hate her like you would love to hate a villain in a movie.”
By mining stock characters such as the femme fatale and the sleazy dandy, as well as plundering the iconic film scores of the likes of Ennio Morricone, the troupe have created a show that feels at once familiar, even if the circus elements within it are new and breathtaking. If you’re uninitiated, it makes a fitting introduction to circus tradition, as Gregory says:
“We really, really wanted to bring all the styles together – traditional circus, cabaret – so you basically have everything in one show.”
Philip continues: “We were really interested in playing with acrobatic elements, like ‘toss the girl’ – which is starting to make a comeback now, but was lost for a long time.” (‘Toss the girl’, for those unfamiliar, is exactly as it sounds – the pint-sized Lolita is batted around by her colleagues like a human hacky sack)
Primarily, though, the notable thing about the experience is that you laugh from start to finish (whenever you’re not gasping at the sight of four people bouncing around the set with the ease of a pinball), thanks to the absurd physical comedy that is liberally laced through the show.
Gregory says this sense of humour was a conscious effort: “We wanted it to be generous to the audience and very light. Because the set is so big and costumes are so strong we didn’t want to make the show too hard or too serious.”
That set – a parlour room recreated in lavish noirish detail – was knocked up by the cast themselves, in Gregory’s father’s garage. It’s beautiful, garlanded with the gorgeous renderings of the troupe as Renaissance paintings on the walls. Those ‘strong’ costumes have a giddy sense of sexiness to them, and at the risk of sounding sleazy, capitalise on the finely-whittled physiques of show’s performers in quite a pleasing way.
Finally, it falls to Philip to summarise what is unique about the show:
“For circus now I feel like it’s interesting because we just construct a story and then also deconstruct it at the same time. This mix of circus and theatre with this cinematic atmosphere is really the signature to our show – really a bit different than what you’re finding in other places at the moment.”
Underbelly Circus Hub, 8.35pm, run ended