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Published on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

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5 stars

Hove Lawns
14-17, 22-24, 29-31 May, 7:30pm-9:30pm; 18, 25, 27 May, 1 Jun, 2:30pm-4:30pm, 7:30pm-9:30pm; 19, 26 May, 2 Jun, 3:00pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

I thought I was bored of circus. At least, I was bored of the sort of circus I’ve so often seen at the Fringe: urban, grungy, and just that little bit too serious to be properly fun. But Bianco isn’t like that. Filled with treats for both the eyes and the ears, it manages to feel both resolutely modern and delightfully vintage – and it’s performed up-close, for a standing audience, which the artists often weave their way right through.

There were some wonderfully energetic sequences – including a comic recreation of a holiday pool party, which looked as much fun to perform as it was to watch – but there are also some moments of true tenderness.  A tightrope routine was enhanced, not diminished, by the fact the performer was just eight feet off the ground: clustered round up close, we could properly admire the skill and subtlety, as it slowly built in intensity to reach a genuinely touching conclusion.  A short, sweet and spectacular routine with spinning rings was a visual highlight, but the apparently-simplest pieces were often the most striking.  I was mesmerised by the juggler, or by the lone pair of acrobats swinging backwards and forwards, higher and higher, faster and faster.

This is a show which isn’t afraid to whisk aside the curtain, and show the tricks of its trade.  You’ll get to see the workings: the ladders, the set changes, the black-clad guy who lurks in the background and keeps a hold of the ropes.  Occasionally there was so much going on around me that I forgot to actually look at the performers, but on the whole the feel of organised chaos works well – lending a new sense of excitement and energy to this old-fashioned style of carnival.

But what really made the show for me was the versatile house band, who played and sang their hearts out from the back of the big top all through the two-hour spectacle.  Their music ranged from old-school jazz to gloriously over-produced rock numbers – the best of which wouldn’t have been out of place on a Meat Loaf CD – and their thumping beat filled the big top with noise, yet never assaulted the senses.  It was the perfect accompaniment for the starkly beautiful drama unfolding in the centre of the crowd, and transformed even familiar routines into heart-stopping highlights.

At £18 an adult this isn’t a cheap night out, but you get an awful lot of show for your money, and the inevitable on-the-night extras are surprisingly good value: a beer and a bottle of water left me with change from a fiver.  Overall, there’s a feel of old-world honesty to NoFit State Circus, a sense that everyone in the big top is getting together to put on their very best show.  It might not have been the most technically impressive performance I’ve ever seen, and you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for anything resembling a storyline.  But it’s exciting, all-encompassing and above all, entertaining.  A highlight of this year’s Fringe.

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