Last year my daughter, grandson and I caught up with the Zirka Circus, a mostly Asian troupe. This was a circus that relied heavily on every member of the team being willing to so everything, including selling programmes, light sabres, tickets and so on. It was circus rendered small-scale, we thought.
And then we saw Circus Aotearoa. This is circus on a very small, very tight budget. (The aerial artiste's fishnet stockings had a large patch sewn on, for instance.) In fact, our first reaction was, this is pretty budget - and that not thought in the most friendly of senses.
A clown had some fun with small kids and an unstrung tennis racket before the actual show started, but the opening two acts didn't do much to encourage more enthusiasm. The string broke on the ringmaster's eggcup device (it's that thing you have on a string and send flying up into the air in order to catch it). He coped well with this, and managed to do his short act without one handle. The next act was the lady tightrope walker - except that she was performing on what you'd have to call a slack rope. Intentional, I'm sure, but it seemed a little odd.
However, after this, things suddenly picked up and it was a matter of spotting which of the eight performers was doing what for the rest of the afternoon. The ringmaster (yes, this circus, unlike Zirka, had a ringmaster) had a stint as a clown, and was very good. The clown from the beginning turned up again in his own act of balancing on various things that shouldn't be balanced on while juggling, and again as a half-clown tennis pro who juggled his tennis racquets and again in some other guise. The tight-rope lady did various other swinging or trapeze-type acts - four in all. One of the guys who seemed to be on hand only to throw things to the other artists, or pick up after them turned out to be a rope-swinger, doing some dazzling stuff up above our heads. The lady who'd ushered people in and then turned her attention to the sound desk came on for at least three acts in which she turned from total clowning (complete with whistle in one act) to some wonderful stuff with up to ten hula hoops. And a couple of guys who were supposed to throw knives - at someone, it never became clear who - were also on hand to do other jobs and acts at different times. (Their knife-throwing act was both clever and clownish - taking some poor guy out of the audience and fooling him into thinking he'd thrown two knives at one of the cast and somehow managed to hit the right spot each time.)
It was the good Kiwi humour and sense of fun that enlivened the show. A nice down-playing of the talent - talent good enough to fit into any decent travelling circus (you were never sure whether someone had intentionally goofed or whether it was part of the act) , and a sense of teamwork made you forget there were so few performers. There were no pyrotechnices, no lighting displays (in fact, someone had apparently forgotten to turn the - one and only - light on at the beginning), no big pieces of equipment, and even some of the costumes had a slight look of having come from an op shop (those of the clowns rather than the 'acts' people). And yet once it got underway it engaged the audience without difficulty and spoke on a level everyone was comfortable with.
It may not be a show to make you gasp at the displays of skill (we've become a bit blase about people doing daring things) but it's very entertaining and well worth a visit, though if you're expecting to see everything listed on their site's FAQ, you'll be disappointed....