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Circus Geeks: Beta Testing
The Udderbelly, Southbank
30th May 2015


Matt Pang, Arron Sparks Spark and Jon Udry

Photography © Joe Clark

So, three men walk into an upside-down purple cow and one starts talking about Russian. No, this isn't the start of a gag, rather a new juggling show which combines live performance with lecturing - basically a circus show-and-tell with plenty of balls, hoops and even chairs in the air. Arron Sparks, Jon Udry and Matt Pang are passionate about their craft to the extent where statistical analysis about drop rates makes them excited. Circus Geeks: Beta Testing is 60 minutes of them sharing that love of juggling (and graphs) with us.

If you're looking for something to take the family to this summer, you could do worse. The three self-proclaimed nerds are talented, personable and there's just something very clean-cut about the entire production which gives it a U-rated feel. Sparks, Udry and Pang show us traditional, old-school tricks, as well as some more modern material, with plenty of variety to keep us interested. However, the downside of making this show safe for all ages is that it becomes tame. The visual appeal and delicious darkness of shows like Smashed isn't there, nor is the danger factor of A Simple Space. There's no denying these boys can juggle well enough to warrant being on stage, but they need to work in some more pizzazz.

Russian, incidentally, is not just a language, it's juggling speak for no drops (yes, we were paying attention to the mid-show lexicon, gold star to us!) and whilst a lot of the tricks are impressive to watch, well, they're not quite Russian. That in itself doesn't really take away from the overall enjoyment - as the performers admit, when people juggle, they do tend to drop things from time to time and, well, juggling in front of an audience increases that fail rate. The trio have enough charisma for an occasional fall not to matter - an embarrassed smile, a bit of overblown swagger - we're all happy enough for things to keep on moving.

And that's where there are problems. An ambitious trick involving ten rings doesn't go smoothly. Initially, Sparks and Udry repeatedly dropping rings seems like a deliberate framing device for Pang to ride on in on a unicycle and save the day by catching everything. A circus equivalent to a knight in shining armour, so to speak. Disappointingly this doesn't happen and instead we're treated to Sparks and Udry bickering on stage while Pang plays with the props and sets up for the next trick. At first the squabbles are entertaining, but go on for just that little bit too long for them to really feel staged. Passing ten hoops back and forth with all of them eventually ending up round Sparks' neck is technically difficult, but fundamentally, not a trick which is worth attempting over and over again until it works.

It's here that the boys' love of what they do gets in the the way of their showmanship. They may desperately want to get the trick right, but the audience just want to move on. We never mind a trier, we never mind an underdog - but Londoners don't like repetition. We catch the same train every day out of necessity not a love of doing the same thing over and over again. Taking the difficulty down a notch would help maintain the relaxed atmosphere originally fostered, and it wouldn't make the trick seem any less impressive to the average punter.

I'm fairly sure everyone's mother would adore all three geeks, they come across as inherently nice, wholesome and plain nice. Did I mention nice? Let me say nice. Circus Geeks: Beta Testing is certainly a fun show with a very broad appeal. The worst that can happen in this show is that things will be dropped, and the performers may hit each other in the faces with wet fish as punishment. It's enjoyable enough; it just lacks an edge.

Circus Geeks: Beta Testing opened on 26th May and runs until 21st June 2015 at the Udderbelly, Southbank.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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