Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, the first headliner at this year’s Underbelly festival, is an unstoppable and almost unbelievable hour of absolute joy.
Underbelly’s Southbank season kicks off with a bang this year, as Circus Abyssinia tumbles into town with a troupe of contortionists, jugglers, acrobats and clowns. Debuting last year in Edinburgh, the show is infectiously energetic – and the daredevil stunts and mind-boggling skills exhibited will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final act.
The show tells the story of Bibi and Bichu, two real-life brothers growing up in Ethiopia who longed to be circus performers. ‘Aart autobiography, part dream’, it charts their journey of how they became jugglers and set up the first circus for Ethiopian performers. We first see little Bibi and Bichu as incredible young performers who perform death-defying tumbling feats landing on shoulders already stacked two people high. Later, we meet Bibi and Bichu all grown up and living out their dream as they dazzle the audience with a slick juggling routine. They really do seem to be performers at the top of their game, able to whip up a crowd in a chorus of amazement while putting on a killer set.
Some of the most impressive parts of the show are delivered by the contortionists. Winding routines leave them stacked on top of each other in bizarre and seemingly impossible ways. At one point, the contortionists hold themselves, legs bent back over their heads, only by their mouths. No circus is complete without a clown and our wandering friend does indeed appear pulling up members of the audience for his doomed tightrope routine.
The story didn’t always seem to weave in with the action on stage, but I can honestly say that it didn’t matter one bit. Circus Abyssinia is all joy, excitement and celebration and I defy adults and children alike not to leave dancing and dreaming of running away with the circus.