Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Beta Testing at the Udderbelly Festival
Ginger Hibiscus | Beta Testing at the Udderbelly Festival
Ginger Hibiscus | Beta Testing at the Udderbelly Festival
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29 May REVIEW: Beta Testing at the Udderbelly Festival

Geek is chic. Professor Brian Cox has made physics accessible and desirable, and through Apple, technology has been transformed from a playground for nerds into being genuinely sexy. By altering the way the public interact with “geeky” ideas, both have broadened the appeal of their fields, and managed to get strangers just as excited about their passions as they are. In Beta Testing, Circus Geeks attempt to do the same with juggling, taking what’s usually a minor side point to a circus show and putting it centre stage, creating a show out of the ability to throw more than one of something into the air at the same time, and then catch it afterwards.

Circus Geeks Beta Testing Gestures Udderbelly Festival 2015As the Circus Geeks say themselves, the difficulty level in juggling doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with how impressive it is to watch, and never is this more apparent than in their performance of their most “difficult trick.” Despite clearly being physically challenging, on the night the number of attempts it took for the team to manage to successfully catch everything, and the awkwardness of watching onstage in-group bickering as they failed to, repeatedly (a lot like when a couple start fighting at a dinner party), can only be described as juggling purgatory, such that when they finally nailed it, the overwhelming emotion was more of relief than anything else.

Decidedly lacking in the “spectacle” department, this juggling novice at the very least expected someone to walk a tightrope juggling knives, as you’d see in Covent Garden on any Thursday afternoon, or if not knives then maybe fire, or anything that might raise just a little bit of adrenaline. But instead of taking the “exhilaration” route into entertainment, the Circus Geeks apparently opted for the educational, explanatory approach, resulting in Beta Testing feeling more like a lecture on the science of juggling than an entertainment show.

During the final 10 minutes, though, as the lecture subsides, audiences are finally treated to what seems to be an entirely different show, as the Geeks finally inject some self-deprecating creativity into the performance using technology and music, offering the welcome hint of humour and touch of theatricality that everyone has been gasping for. An unfortunate case of “too little, too late,” it’s as though at the very last moment of working out what was going to happen in Beta Testing, someone came up with this great idea that they never quite had time to explore in full, an idea that could, and should, have been the linchpin in a technologically-savvy production.

In software terms, “Beta Testing” refers to a stage in the testing cycle where software is released to a limited audience for feedback, to allow the developers to make adjustments and improve the user experience – what in theatrical terms we’d call previews. An apt title, the feedback from this review would be to recommend the Circus Geeks take a trip to see National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, to see how something brilliantly fun is created from social awkwardness, formidable intellect, and a topic that doesn’t necessarily turn people on, by layering with impressive visuals, clever staging and a throbbing soundtrack. That, and to let go of what’s technically difficult, and fill the show with tricks that look spectacular, with an injection of showmanship. Unfortunately as it is, probably the most incredible thing about Beta Testing is that it managed to secure a place as a headline act at the Udderbelly Festival.

Without being an expert in juggling, it’s difficult to appreciate the level of commitment and skill that goes into putting together a show like this, and in terms of technical ability, with the exception of having so many attempts at one particular trick ,it’s difficult to fault them. I just guess there’s a reason juggling is usually only one of many elements to a circus show.

For tickets and information:
Venue: The Udderbelly Festival
Dates: 26th May – 21st June 2015
Images: Joe Clark

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here