Tucked away off Fore Street, in the bottom end of Exeter, lives the Bike Shed Theatre. Home, until the 18th of June at least, to the spectacle that is... Circus Britannica. Shaun McCarthy, known locally for Beanfield in June 2010, has returned to the Bike Shed for a second time, and on some form. This original piece of writing has been excellently directed by David Lockwood, who’s brought this story set within a circus to life.
The cast is small, but the six players are almost never off stage and are, quite simply, talented. Their constant presence gives the wondering eye plenty to take in, but doesn’t distract from the central action on stage. This play is a truly intimate experience, with only 60 seats and with the players playing in the round, you really feel as though you’re in the middle of it being, at times, within touching distance of the players.
The action on stage is tirelessly supported by Joseph Carey (Zoltan), Andy Kelly (Besnik) and Jenny May Morgan (Jofranka). Whilst all delivering strong performances on stage, they are impressive musicians, breaking the fourth wall from the off with a cheeky and surprising opening number. The music, performed live, is beautifully effective at capturing the mood as the stories unfold. The principal plot is led by Tom Sherman who plays a dark and troubled Dave, Sophia Thierens becomes a strong but desperate Ring-mistress and Jos Vantyler, who plays Stevie, a wandering gap year student from Guildford, looking for a life changing experience. Jos was born to play that role.
The set is simple but versatile and provides the players with props galore. The costumes are obvious but perfect, with a patriotic twist or two.
Xenophobia, immigration, racism and sexism are all thrown into the mix, with many much needed and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. There’s even some magic, acrobatics and a few fight scenes. The cast are committed to the politics of the first act and seem to enjoy the action of the second. Despite the odd wavering accent, it works. It will question you, shame you, trouble you, and then bring you back with a chuckle or two. It’s tense, but thoroughly enjoyable.