Cirque Berserk (Peacock)

Zippos Circus swaps the Big Top for the Peacock’s Pros Arch as they stop off in London on their nationwide tour

There seem to be two branches of modern circus: one is louche, sexy and muscle-rippling, the other noisy, aggressive and dangerous. Cirque Berserk is the latter. The decibel level of the backing track made me fear for the safety of the building, while the sight of four motorcyclists weaving patterns at top speed inside a metallic cage had me gasping for air.

This act belongs to Zippo’s Circus, as indeed do the Timbuktu Tumblers – Kenyan acrobats who dive over skipping ropes and limbo dance under flaming rods – and the Mongolian contortionist who extracts herself from a bell jar and fires arrows at a target with her feet stretched back over her head.

At this point my eyes started watering, and I’d only just recovered from the shock of two Argentinian flamenco dancers caning the stage floor with some lethal-looking silver balls attached by strong thread to their upper limbs; and then it was time for the aerial gymnast who ascends to the flies in a noose and dices with death by twirling around with her entire weight placed on the nape of her neck.

Nor did the Czech top-hatted knife-thrower stop at slamming his blades into the outlying territory of his amply constructed assistant. The poor woman then had to endure a battery of machetes flying around her bonce, and still she managed a rictus of a smile as if she’d just won the lottery, or perhaps she’d pulled a hernia.

So, you ask me, did I have a good time? Put it this way, it might be just the sort of thing to astonish and delight fractious ten-year-olds for a couple of hours during half-term holidays next week.

Thank heavens for the clown, a very good one, a Scotsman called Tweedy, who did some classic falling about, notably the traditional stand-by of the collapsing bicycle which is transformed into a giant unicycle. Only with the clown do you feel you’re at the circus proper.

I loved Zippo’s Circus when I saw it on Hampstead Heath last year. The cramped stage of the Peacock is no substitute for the Big Top. All of these acts, not least the motorbike mob, need the 3-D wrap-around setting and the focal shape of the tent. And they need, even more, the linking presence of the ringmaster.

Zippo’s legendary emcee, Norman Barrett MBE (with his delightful budgerigar act), is sorely missed, but hard to envisage in such a brutalist environment. And of course a circus without animals isn’t really a circus at all. Zippo’s has some fine prancing horses and ponies. But as this show noisily demonstrates, you can put on anything these days and call it a circus. The world’s gone mad and the cirque is obviously berserk.

Cirque Berserk runs at the Peacock Theatre until 24 February.