Some things, however good, are just past their sell-by date, and those famed hippie jugglers, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, seem locked in a time warp of 1970s street performers, musical interludes with trumpets and cornets and lukewarm audience participation.
Their vaudeville at the Vaudeville is quite trying in the backchat department (“Are you laughing with me or at me?” “At you.” “Gesundheit”) and takes time to warm up. But a sequence of Indian club juggling as a jazz quartet with inbuilt recovery of dropped clubs and technical advice is absolutely mesmerising.
Founder and director Paul Magid is still the leader, and he still sports a bushy ponytail and moustache. He and his confreres first came here in 1981, to the old May Fair, visited the Edinburgh Festival in 1987 and were last seen in London seventeen years ago at the Criterion.
The act hasn’t changed much. The set is a pile of cardboard boxes which they emerge from and drum on. They all wear kilts and Doc Martens. They gradually compile a collection of nine “terror” objects – including a fish, a skillet, a Korean machete, a salt-shaker, an egg and a ukulele – and juggle them at the end.
That’s after they’ve invited the “cardboard lady” from the front stalls – she’s been thrown some of the cardboard, and propositioned -- to stand still while they juggle flaming torches around her. “Good luck, and goodbye,” they say to her. “We’re insured by Lloyds. Of Mexico.”
This is a much better second half, starting with a rhythmic game of hand ball on a table with a slanting overhead mirror that creates a surreal sensation of haphazard integration, just like the whirling clubs, or the percussive cross-cutting of clubs and tambours earlier on.
A little juggling goes a long way, but it’s not every day you see it done in 5/4 time with inbuilt jazz beats, or in coloured balls, like fireflies in the dark, or as a form of interaction with the audience, juggling whatever we throw at them.
Magid does alarmingly well with a cake, a bag of flour and a joint of British bacon tied to a few balloons. He keeps these things in the air for about ten seconds. Good God, you realise he’s been doing this for thirty-eight years (the Karamazovs first flew in 1973).
Ironically, his much younger colleagues – Mark Ettinger, Roderick Kimball, Stephen Bent — have redefined the show as a mere novelty act, as opposed to the counter-cultural Californian phenomenon it was all those years ago.