Circus Oz, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

As a twentysomething, I was perhaps a late starter, but I can finally say with pride that I have seen my first circus. I'm not sure entirely what I was expecting as I walked in, but the almost bare stage was certainly a decoy. Look around you before the show begins, and you may notice firstly the lack of younger children, and then the "Ringmistress" (Anni Davey) wandering around, dressed in the traditional top hat and tails... and black bra, fishnets and hotpants. You soon know what you're in for. An evening of awesome stunts, cheesy jokes (even "oh no you don't", "oh yes we do") and some audience participation - they may make you wish you'd never paid extra for that good seat.

As a twentysomething, I was perhaps a late starter, but I can finally say with pride that I have seen my first circus. I'm not sure entirely what I was expecting as I walked in, but the almost bare stage was certainly a decoy. Look around you before the show begins, and you may notice firstly the lack of younger children, and then the "Ringmistress" (Anni Davey) wandering around, dressed in the traditional top hat and tails... and black bra, fishnets and hotpants. You soon know what you're in for. An evening of awesome stunts, cheesy jokes (even "oh no you don't", "oh yes we do") and some audience participation - they may make you wish you'd never paid extra for that good seat.

It's a simple formula: you're hit with a barrage of traditional circus tricks and physical feats, performed by a group of around 13 acrobats and musicians. And in the PC way of things, there are no animals apart from a very amusing trapeze routine when the performers are all dressed as birds.

From contortion to juggling, the troupe's mastery of their own individual skills was breathtaking, and working as a team you could tell they were all completely at ease with entrusting their well-being to the other performers. Also, their obvious enjoyment of doing the show can't help but rub off on to the audience.

Make no mistake: Circus Oz is not a night with the RSC. It's there for one reason and one reason only: to make you laugh, to make you gasp, and to make you realise just how talented the troupe is. Even when they're dangling above the stage on a trapeze, held only by the strength in one foot, they still manage to spin their hats off their heads, down their arms, and give you a cheeky grin as they do it.

A special mention must go to Melissa Fyfe, the "strong woman" of the performance, whose finale involved her stomach and a few concrete blocks.

She also possessed an incredible grace, and her performance on the German Wheel was my favourite part of the evening. (That's the one that looks like a hamster-cage wheel.) To see her standing on the top of it, and then slipping down to become almost part of the wheel itself while it rolled across the stage, was so fluid it was almost ballet.

In order to enjoy such a night, you've just got to hang up your reservations, sit back, and clap, constantly. And one final word of warning: Captain Frodo brought tears to my eyes. I can bend my little finger at 90 degrees to my ring finger, but nothing can compare to a grown man somehow cramming his entire body through a tennis racquet with the strings removed... and then repeating the process with another, smaller racquet. When he announces with a laugh, "don't worry, it gets worse", believe me, it really does.

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