Festival Gala THE FIRST BITE

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

13/01/2019 - 13/01/2019

World Buskers Festival 2019 | BREAD & CIRCUS

Production Details

We’re serving up your favourite buskers for an evening of delicious over-indulgence at the Isaac Theatre Royal. From the freshly picked and half-baked to the plump and sometimes cheesy. Sink your teeth into all the best bits.

A sell-out every year, if you can’t make this one, we’re giving you one more chance with a whole new line up for our closing night gala THE LAST MORSEL.

Piff the Magic Dragon
Hot Brown Honey
Bayley Graham
Pedro Tochas
Daredevil Chicken Club
Le Gateau Chocolat
The Raymond & Mr Timpkins Revue: HAM @ The Spiegeltent
Sara Twister

Isaac Theatre Royal 
13 Jan 2019


Theatre , Multi-discipline , Comedy ,

2 hrs incl. interval

Truly impressive performances – shame about the sound levels

Review by Tony Ryan 14th Jan 2019

Although The First Bite is just a one-off Buskers Festival sampler show, it gives us a chance to see bits from a range of acts that might tempt us to explore them further. For me it’s also interesting to see performers whose full shows I’ve already seen.   

Foremost among those ‘already seen’ extracts is Raymond and Mr Timpkins where the bigger venue of the Theatre Royal results in some loss of intimate impact, but that’s compensated for by the infectious response of the far larger crowd. This UK duo’s madcap silliness certainly goes down exceptionally well with tonight’s audience. I’m also reminded of the fast-paced complexity and timing of this very quirky and original act, and we enjoy this all-too-brief segment just as much the second time round, even though we’re now ahead of the game to an extent. 

I’m not sure that a single solo performer from LIMBO, the festival’s spectacular headline act, is the ideal taster to whet our appetites for the full show. Penelope Elena certainly impresses with her particular brand of gymnastic contortion, but her participation as part of the LIMBO performance, quite different from what we see tonight, is more compelling, especially as, tonight, she’s almost upstaged by one of the street buskers, Germany’s Sara Twister, whose final bow-and-arrow stunt is a real showpiece.

Another act that I’ve seen in the street is Biggest Little Circus from Wellington. Tonight they forgo their juggling, gymnastics and acrobatics to provide a linking thread with several appearances between other acts. It’s low-key and not as tightly choreographed as some, but still engaging and it provides welcome respite from the more high-impact acts. 

After his brief appearance here in The First Bite, I’m very much looking forward to Piff the Magic Dragon’s full show. Tonight, after an energetic, if slightly ‘forced’ introduction from Las Vegas’s Dare Devil Chicken Club, who provide the MC continuity, Piff gets the show off to a belly-laughing start with his almost nonchalantly indifferent style of comedy. With the help of a couple of front row patrons, he demonstrates a remarkable ability to develop superb comedy from the circumstances of the moment so that his routine becomes just a hanger for the spontaneous inspiration that results from the actions and reactions of his ‘volunteers’. 

But the Dare Devil Chicken Club duo grows on us as the evening progresses. Their outrageously cringe-making banana routine quickly revives the audience’s enthusiastic responsiveness after the interval and their puppet routine at the end of the show is sheer delight.

Most of the other acts also come from the outdoor Buskers Programme – but what a huge disappointment the weather is. Even so, tonight, Japanese comic acrobat Hero San and Portuguese clown Pedro Tochas are both very clever and very funny, and New Zealand tap-dancer Bayley Graham is a real audience favourite. Quirky UK cabaret duo Cocoloco is one of the most bizarre acts I’ve ever seen but, somehow, it works … to an extent.

So far in this year’s Buskers Festival, it’s gratifying to have been so impressed by and positive about everything I’ve seen. However, from tonight there is one significant disappointment and that’s the huge misjudgement in the sound levels of the music and backing tracks.  Although the operator’s ability to co-ordinate the varied and complex requirements of so many different acts is stunningly impressive, the levels and mix are wearingly overbearing throughout the night.

Don’t get me wrong: I like it loud. The sound for LIMBO in the Spiegeltent is just as loud, but there the balance remains natural and exciting, with every nuance of the live musicians caught and amplified to advantage. But here in The First Bite, the sound spreads and distorts, and the higher frequencies are, at times, excruciating. Sometimes the levels are so badly misjudged that the act on stage is compromised. The sound of Bayley Graham’s tap dance shoes are too often almost completely drowned out in a way that Hilton Denis’s in LIMBO never are; and Le Gateau Chocolat’s torch song finale is so ruined by the sound that any valid comment on the performance itself is impossible. 

Otherwise, the performances themselves are truly impressive. Based on what I see tonight, the full shows are even better than these short extracts would suggest, and I do look forward hugely to some of the full acts that I have yet to see.


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