Probably the only show at the Fringe this year where the audience is asked to take a bow, Ben Maier’s one-man play An Imaginary Circus is every bit as surreal and eclectic as the title suggests.
In a desperate attempt to save the local glass factory, a young man attempts to put on a circus. His casting call is answered not by acrobats but by three people with stories to tell. A musician who was born deaf but can now hear; a poet inspired by his first love; and a young woman searching for her missing mother, a mysterious circus performer.
The storytelling is at times extremely vivid. Maier uses his body and his environment as much as words to tell his four stories, and the characters he creates are distinguised by body language as well as voice and accent; his depiction of deafness and of shock and amazement at suddenly experiencing sound for the first time is a definite highlight. At its best, it truly does transport you away from the cellar of the Fiddlers Elbow to the countryside of eastern europe.
This is a play which exists in three dimensions. The audience becomes not only part of the performance space, but also part of the performance; prepare to be handed postcards, flowers and even musical instruments, to be asked to clap, and to be invited up on stage in an experience so interactive that it borders on pantomime.
While fun, witty and sometimes very effective, the audience participation element often undercuts the illusion that had been so skillfully created – it can be hard to suspend your disbelief when an important character is played by an audience member who can only deliver one line!
However, An Imaginary Circus is dynamic, energetic and skillful in its blending of music, poetry and storytelling. It could be much slicker, but for a free show it’s a whole lot of fun.