Cirque Berserk! helping to prove circus still thrills 250 years on
- Credit: Piet Hein-Out
In the 250th anniversary year of circus Cirque Berserk! brings thrills and spills to Norwich Theatre Royal this Easter holiday. Simon Parkin finds out more from performer Laci, the latest generation of Britain's oldest circus family.
In 1768, on an abandoned patch of land near London's Waterloo, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground and filled it with a combination of jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men and bareback riders.
This spectacle was the world's very first circus and this year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of what is now a worldwide form of entertainment and an art form in its own right.
'It's something to be hugely proud of,' says John Laci Fossett, the latest generation of the Fossett family, which is Britain's oldest circus family.
'The fact that circus has such a history is special. I think everyone involved is proud of its past, but you never know how long the business is going to go on for. It's something special to be involved with. Circus is a different way of life but it's a fantastic life.'
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John, 24, who performs under the name Laci, is keeping the tradition alive with a spectacular aerial act and will be at Norwich Theatre Royal this Easter as part of the cast of Cirque Berserk!
Presented the historic Zippos Circus, it is a jaw-dropping, exhilarating circus show created specifically for the theatre. It has all the thrills and skills of the traditional circus but brings a new twist by performing on a theatre stage rather than in a Big Top.
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Laci will be thrilling the audience with skill, strength and artistry as part of the rarely seen aerial pole act. 'I go up in the air and do plunges and all kinds of aerial tricks off it,' he explains. 'It's quite spectacular but because it's a solo piece it's a calm part of the show. But it's a treat for the eyes and quite exciting too. I'm also involved in a gypsy scene and there are scenes with hand props.'
Laci is part of an international cast. 'Spanish, Kenyan, Russian, there are many nationalities in the show,' he says. 'That's one of the great things about circus that it is so international and there is never any problem.
'We're all kind of a big family. I knew some from other circuses I've been to and been involved in. It's always nice to see each other again. Circus is like that. It's quite a small world and everyone tends to know one another. You many not see someone for many years but then when you meet or perform together again it's exactly the same.
'Even if we don't speak the same language, we can still communicate. Circus is an international language. The shared skills and the history of circus mean we are always on the same wavelength.'
Laci's mother is Hungarian but his father is part of the famous British circus family, which meant there was probably never any doubt he'd continue the tradition.
'I have been performing since I was four,' he said. 'I was learning trapeze, high wire, everything aerial. I've always loved it, even at that young age. I love heights, my mum not so much. She came into the tent one day when I was about six and someone was already catching me by the arms at about 15 metre high, so that was a bit of a shock for her.
'When I was 16 I saw an aerial strap act when I visited the Moscow State Circus and knew this is what I wanted to do as a career.'
He went to Budapest to learn for a year. 'I would catch a bus every day and travel for an hour. Then I would practice for at least five hours. It was hard work but I really enjoyed it.'
He has been a regular performer with Zippos Circus, which is a real family affair with his mum working in the ticket office and his dad working maintaining lorries and equipment
This is his first time with Cirque Berserk! and he admits it's a different experience to be performing in theatres rather than above the ring in a Big Top.
'It's strange to switch from a tent because there people work around you, there is a big ring of course, whereas in a theatre, its full focus just to the front. It's a different aspect both for the audience and for us performers. It's a nice environment to be in and a nice feeling, but very different.'
The show arrives in Norwich in the Easter holidays. But does circus still have the magic for modern audiences 250 years on?
He said: 'I would say so. It's an excitement. People don't get to see this kind of stuff every day. We keep on making something new and that's always going to be exciting for new generations.'
ROLL UP, ROLL UP…WHO IS PERFORMING
The Lucius Team — Petrol-fuelled hair-raiser as four motorbikes ride upsiade down at 60pm inside the Globe of Death.
Timbuktu Tumblers — Acrobatic stunts including jumping through hoops, flaming limbo poles and gravity-defying human pyramids.
Bolas Argentinas — Gabriel and Germaine use the traditional throwing weapons 'bolas', originally used by the gauchos (Argentinian cowboys).
Odka — Mongolian known as the 'Lady from the Bottle' who is most flexible archer ever shooting an arrow with perfect aim with only her feet as she stands on her hands!
Tropicana Troupe — Cuban aerial troupe fly through the air performing amazing tricks from flick flacks to somersaults.
Jackie — British strap acrobat act who will be performing hair-raising, mid-air tricks and who definitely has a head for heights.
Germaine Delbosq — Originally from France, one of the world's most talented foot jugglers who throws and catches balls, rings, cubes and even flaming objects all with her feet!
Toni — Czech knife thrower armed with axes and blades at the target Don't worry, his assistant comes out without a single scratch…he hopes!
Zula — Mongolia master of the Tower of Chairs, one of the oldest of ever circus acts but don't be fooled by the age of the skills they still have the power to thrill.
Jose and Gaby — Colombia's internationally acclaimed hand-to-hand duo performing with unbelievable strength, agility and balance.
• Cirque Berserk! Norwich Theatre Royal, April 5-7, 7.30pm, 2pm April 6/£2pm and 5pm April 7, £29.50-£10, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk