The Art of Circus: A Review of the Netherlands National Circus

S&C regular Matt Wingett takes a trip to the big top for a night at the Netherlands National Circus.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are only three true art forms. They are Pantomime, Punch and Judy and the Circus. Of this, the highest in the hierarchy is whichever I’ve seen last. All three are an obsession for me, because they celebrate extremes and the grotesque – while the circus can often add the sublime and the bizarre to the mix.

Circuses have many different ways to show human beings doing extraordinary things. For some, it’s all in the arty presentation, for others it’s the telling of a story, for others again the shock and awe of something anarchic that seems to defy the laws of physics and biology. Then there are the circuses that strip it down to pure, straightforward, time-honoured circus.

The Netherlands National Circus fits into that last category. The show’s format is very much the animal-free traditional show. From the introduction of the performers at the beginning, through the clowns and various acts, the Netherland National Circus runs through some fascinating and impressive performances, without theming the show or adding deep artistic production values.

At the show, you’ll see feats of derring-do in the aerial performances. A woman on a ring high in the big top picked out in a spotlight, with her shadow cast on the roof behind her, no net on the ground 10 metres below, typifies the bravery of those we peered upwards to see. Another notable act features extraordinarily muscular aerialists who combine their act in the air with a tank of flaming water on the ground. They hang above it, dripping with water from previous immersions, and finally dive into it. No-one wears safety harnesses.

Then there are acts of deftness. The Diablo juggler who opens the show, builds up to eventually spinning four Diablos into the air from his rope, and at some points whips them, one-handed, to keep the spin going as they fall to earth. The hula hooper who spins 7, 8,9, 10 and more hoops on her body, and even spin hoops as she hangs from the ceiling. The woman who can juggle barrels with her feet, while spinning a hoop with her hand. All are deeply impressive.

And of course, there are the skilled acts of balance and control – the unicyclists spinning crazily around the stage, the trick cyclists piling more and more people onto one bicycle.

All is held together by the Ringmaster and the clowns – a couple who get up to silly antics to entertain the audience during set changes. These I noted went down well with the kids, and there were genuine laugh out loud moments in which the kids roared.

These were the upsides of the night. Notably missing were tight ropes and trapeze artists – two circus staples. There were also none of the more extreme performances you sometimes see – trick motorcyclists or sword swallowers for example, which I have seen at other shows on the Common.

The stripped-down style of this show is pretty much circus without artistic interpretation. A series of variety acts that dazzle. There is no deeper thread to tie it all together. And with no trapeze or tight-rope for the grand finale, this show seems never quite to reach top gear.

Nevertheless, the kids liked it, and it made for good, family entertainment.

On a practical note, make sure you’re wrapped up warm. The cold whipped across the Common on the first night, and it was a little chilly.

In all, a good night’s entertainment. This one gets three and a half out of 5 stars for me. It didn’t knock me over, but the control and the brilliance of the performers dazzles at times.

The Netherlands National Circus will be on till 15th April 2018.

Full price tickets start at £12 for children, but look out for offers and discount vouchers that have been distributed around the shops of Portsmouth, and snaffle yourself a bargain evening of big top entertainment.

Photography by Matt Wingett.