Nights at the Circus, Lyric Hammersmith, London

Hey, watch out on that tightrope...
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The Independent Culture

It's the wrong way round, isn't it, when you yearn to run away from the circus? The physical troupe Kneehigh are often wonderfully, wildly inventive but their new show is, alas, underdeveloped and patchy. With expectations sky-high, it's a long drop.

Based on Angela Carter's novel, this magic realist fable tells of Fevvers, a monstrous, brazen yet alluring aerialiste, supposedly born with real wings and reared by proto-feminist, man-bashing whores. The Cockney Venus is pursued by Jack Walser, a journalist who suspects she's a fraud but falls for her and is prepared to become a clown to win her heart.

Firstly, Carter's book isn't that great, even if it still speaks to mellowed feminists and ladettes. This adaptation by Tom Morris and director Emma Rice, though filleted, retains clods of florid prose and cloying slush. Secondly, on the page, Fevvers' voluptuousness is gargantuan. On stage, Natalia Tena's Fevvers is scantily clad but disappointingly everyday. Her acting skills are extremely diminutive.

Still, Gisli Örn Gardarsson is an endearingly gentle Walser, Amanda Lawrence is exquisite as the fragile, battered yet internally beautiful Mignon. The snarling tigers are a flash of inspiration - tin buckets with glowing eyes and grating saws for jaws - and the last scene is a transcendent vision of sexual delight, with Tena and Gardarsson on bouncing trapezes, swinging, stretching for each other's fingertips and eventually coming to rest, upside-down and laughing.

To 18 February, 0870 050 0511, then 14 March to 4 April at Bristol Old Vic, 0117 987 7877

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

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