There’s a little old woman inside me, who is sad that we all spend our time indoors watching TV (me included), rather than go out to the theatre or the circus. There’s little as family friendly and interactive as a circus performance, but rather than search these out, I tend to sit indoors rewatching Gilmore Girls or whatever Netflix comedy special catches my eye. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the circus.
I had the pleasure of going to see Cirque Africa on opening night. Billed as “a new millennium circus” showcasing the “sights and sounds of Africa”, the production comprises 38 performers from six African countries (including Tanzania, where the show was founded, as well as Nigeria and the Ivory Coast). As is usually the case for modern circuses, Cirque Africa has no animals, so there won’t be any lions or elephants jumping through hoops.
Backed by a live band, Cirque Africa is unique in its presentation. We’ve all seen jugglers and clowns and contortionists, but ringmaster and owner/director/producer Winston Ruddle (aka Papa Africa) brings us vibrant, high-intensity, colourful twists on traditional circus acts. That African twist can be seen in the costuming, the music and the sheer energy performers bring to the show. Of course, they’re technically excellent as well – there are several stand-out performances that have the audience in suspense, or clapping along.
Papa Africa also doubles as a clown, but in a way that doesn’t terrify small children, and some adults. Instead, he relies on mime and audience participation to drive his acts. Yes, there is audience participation, but it’s genuinely funny, not just funny because the participants are embarrassed. There were six audience participants altogether, so if you’re not a participator, don’t sit in the front row!
Cirque Africa was adapted recently from a theatre show to a big top show, which means that the backdrops aren’t quite as stunning as they could be, but logistically it’s all sound, and we’re never waiting too long between acts. I can’t stress how much fun this show was – a lot of circuses are great to watch, but Papa Africa works hard at forging a connection between the performers and the audience, and ensuring that the audience is actually having fun and participating, not just sitting and watching.
The location is thankfully easily accessible – we got there by tram, and it’s also close to Burnley Station, or there’s parking if that’s your game. So there’s no excuse to not go along – head to the website for more information, or book at Ticketek.
Cirque Africa is at Burnley Oval until the 19th July before moving on to the Marriott Shopping Centre and Burnside Shopping Centre.