Saturday, 13 November 2010

Circus Berzercus!

Inspired double act
Steve Eldridge and Ben Cornish
as Wallace the Unicycling Magician
and Gerald the Juggler are -
Last night (Thurs 12 Nov) at St Stephens Church in Exeter High Street we enjoyed a rare treat: traditional circus and music hall comedy skills from two seasoned professionals, Ben Cornish and Steve Eldridge who together form 'Circus Berzercus'.
An enthusiastic audience crowded into the church to enjoy this rare opportunity to see this nationally acclaimed local duo perform their amazing and beautiful act.  People of all ages attended, but the front three rows were reserved for the very excited children.
Ben opened with some very engaging patter and some amazing mime.  The 'floating suitcase' routine was absolute genius and left some people perplexed an hour later.  Just as Ben (now clearly identified as 'Gerald the Juggler') was setting up a spinning ball trick with young audience member, Aaron, the moment we had all been waiting for arrived.  With a comedic fanfare of cycle horns 'Wallace' (Steve Eldridge) appeared at the back of the auditorium on his unicycle.  Keeping up a steady patter with 'Gerald', Wallace, who was dressed as Norman Wisdom, made his way to the stage on the unicycle performing a series of spectacular and terrifying comedy stunts en-route. We now knew that this was going to be something very special.  With Wallace on stage Gerald's spinning ball trick with Aaron quickly descended into farce, with Aaron enjoying the spectacle as much as everyone else.
At a crucial moment there was a loud theatrical bang, the music stopped abruptly and the hall was plunged into darkness.  A hilarious routine followed with Wallace heard offstage mending the fuse while Gerald desperately tested his microphone, only to have Wallace proudly appear and upstage him with a working microphone.  The routine was so clever that no-one was quite sure what was going on until the interval when it was explained that there really had been a power-cut.  I'm still not sure now whether it was real or an act.
The sound and lighting came and went during the subsequent performance, but everything worked perfectly with or without the technology.
The whole act is called 'A Komedy of Errers' where Wallace is an agency circus performer engaged by Gerald to perform his act with him.  The comedy patter with carefully timed 'misunderstandings' and 'mistakes' was comedy genius and acrobatic skill rolled into one from start to finish.  The children (and some adults) found it truly believable and roared their disapproval at Wallace's hilarious 'mistakes'.  When the balloon animal Wallace was making for one of the children as a 'prize' suddenly burst, the look on his face was pure Norman Wisdom.  It was only after the show, when he offered the poor girl (Ruth) a replacement that we realised that this wasn't part of the act either.
The second half was devoted more to set pieces, rather than a story, but still with the comedic interplay of Gerald and Wallace.  Gerald's juggling routine in pitch darkness with 'glowing balls' was amazing, and Wallace's 'bicycle bell orchestra' conducted (reluctantly) by Gerald was a masterpiece of audience participation with five children on stage performing ad-hoc to delighted applause.  The grand finale, involving audience participation, high unicycle, six club juggling  and perfectly timed comedy patter, was as hilarious and impressive as it was terrifying.  Circus Berzercus!

(As I was saying to Ben on Tuesday during our interview, I know Steve quite well, and he is a quiet unassuming sort of chap in everyday life.  You wouldn't suspect his other persona as a comedian.  But during Thursday's performance I never thought for one moment, 'what's Steve playing at?'  Steve really was Wallace, and I was transported along with everyone else to a confusing and amazing world of tricks and comedy.  If anything, Ben was understating the case when he said that Circus Berzercus is 'Morecambe and Wise with juggling'.)

By the way, this was a benefit performance.  Ben and Steve took no fee.  All proceeds are going to the restoration of that marvellous piece of Exeter's history, the one thousand year old Church of St Stephens in Exeter High Street.  Even if you were unfortunate enough to miss this wonderful performance, you may still want to know more about the project, which aims to bring this historic building back to its former glory.  Click here for more details!

As you read this, photos of the live action at Circus Berzercus will be coming to this post.  Watch out for them below this text.  More details about Circus Berzercus are here.

Gerald the Juggler
The Floating Suitcase

Enter Wallace . . .
. . . and mayhem ensues!

Here at last
Aaron's big moment

Any chance of a balloon animal as a prize?
Aaron takes a bow

Gerald 'ups the ante'
Terrified audience member Nick
'assists' Wallace by
blowing his whistle

Gerald's 'glowing balls'
(you had to be there)

Ruth and Stanley volunteer
for the plank trick

Ruth supervises as Stanley
pulls away the support
Will Wallace's balloon support her weight?

Wallace has to cover his eyes
as Stanley whips out the balloon

Full audience participation
in the bicycle bell orchestra
The orchestra take a bow

Things start to go terribly wrong

A new level of terror for Stanley

The older audience members
try to look unconcerned

The grand finale

Organiser Richard Skinner
says what we're all thinking


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