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William the Great

Julian Orbach

A modern and clean circus show.
William the Great

Image: www.adelaidefringe.com.au

William the Great is a collaboration between the French-Canadian Bête de Cirque and local circus artists. It tells the story of the upcoming coronation of a petty, annoyed, and sometimes bored tyrant. He alternates between feeling frustrated at the incompetence of his courtiers, and demanding they amuse him. The narrative provides an excuse for the introduction of individual circus acts, that operate largely independently to plot line. The result is a warm and funny circus/physical theatre production, showcasing the remarkable talents of the six cast members.

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The star of the show is Romuald Solesse, from Quebec, whose charming low-status clown delights the audience even as they are still being seated, and his subplot of looking for the 'wife of my life' wins them over completely. He doesn't limit himself to quick wit with the audience though. He is also an accomplished acrobat, including basing a very clean three-high stack of acrobats, and a well-executed adagio act with Australian, Maggie Fayne. Solesse also filled an interlude but with a rather mundane magic routine with little of the innovation found in the rest of his performance – his close-up dexterity with a deck of cards was largely lost from the back rows of the theatre – although the charm of his character carried the audience through.

Lachlan Rickus provided another stand-out character, playing the title role as a larger-than-life bad guy. Rickus is a circus performer who has returned to the stage after being confined to a wheelchair. This makes his flashy hoop-twirling routine all the more impressive; there is little room for error without using your stance for corrections.

The cast demonstrated remarkable strength and dexterity on apparatus such as Chinese pole, static trapeze, and a remarkable Roue Cyr (a large hoop) performance, transitioning back and forth from dizzingly fast to graceful and poised.

The troupe has been set-back with many cast changes due to injuries and other difficulties that accompany any international tour – so, don't expect to see the same faces on the stage as the promotional material. While the current cast worked together well, the changes may explain some of the minor weaknesses – with performers of this calibre, these can be expected to be worked out over a longer run. For example, in the opening chaotic scene, Rickus and his chair were treated as little more than obstacles for the acrobats to dodge and leap over. It wasn't until late in the piece we see why he truly belongs on the circus stage. While Solesse and Rickus had over-the-top characters, I would also like to see more distinction between the characters of the other performers.

That said, there were some memorable moments in the occasional ensemble pieces: The 'pop culture' references to Renaissance paintings, dropped in the middle of the tumbling mess of acrobatics, gave the adults in the crowd some deep chuckles. The ending takes a bit of a risk, relying on audience members, but it paid off, leaving everyone satisfied.

The Empyrean is a brand-new circus tent making its debut in the Gluttony area at the 2016 Adelaide Fringe. It has been designed specifically for high-risk physical acts, such as William The Great. With the show's minimal set design and the performers taking advantage of the large stage, the space worked very well.

William the Great is, at its heart, a modern and clean circus show, bound together with a simple, but solid, narrative arc, and held up by a talented cast. The result is an enrapturing delight, full of laughs and wows. It is a great pleasure to watch.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

William The Great
Until 14 March 2016
Gluttony – Empyrean

Adelaide Fringe Festival
12 February - 14 March
www.adelaidefringe.com.au

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Julian Orbach is a Sydney-based circus instructor. He has hosted meet-ups, shows and conventions for Australian jugglers and other circus performers for over twenty years.

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