Te Manawa, The Heart of the City, 1249 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua

13/04/2019 - 13/04/2019

Rotorua Fringe Festival 2019

Production Details


The penultimate event of the Rotorua Fringe Festival 2019, a free circus show in Te Manawa at lunchtime!

The Biggest Little Circus are a three-piece circus group, performing everything from highly skilled juggling, aerial acrobatics and even a human changing room. You can’t miss their leotards and you don’t want to miss their one-of-a-kind finale. The Biggest Little Circus is a show full of charm, surprise and plenty of lycra.

Their first FREE performance will be in Te Manawa, heart of the City on Tutanekai Street at lunchtime, followed by an evening performance at 5.30pm in the same location. Get there early to nab a primo spot!

Te Manawa, The Heart of the City, 1249 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua
Sat, 13 April 2019

Theatre , Outdoor , Family , Cirque-aerial-theatre ,

1 hr

Politically emboldened dare-devils

Review by Angela Frank 15th Apr 2019

Scuttling down the main street of Rotorua, I hear the opening music and commentary from street act, The Biggest Little Circus. They’re billed as the ‘penultimate finale’ of Rotorua’s inaugural Fringe Fest, which has been a culturally rejuvenating ten-day delight.

The trio of buskers, dorked out in matching florals, are brothers Zane and Degge Jarvie, with aerialist Imogen Stone. Tonight their professional smiles belie the climate. The temperature is frigid – 14 degrees – and the end of daylight saving has the day winding down at pace.

Despite the cold, Rotorua has arrived for the occasion. A somewhat stony crowd – I’m guessing it’s the influencing chill factor – of 300-400 are gathered loosely around the foot of a triangular rig that stands several metres into the air complete with trapeze ropes and a large ring: hung with the promise of gravity-defying feats to come. We gaze expectantly at these three white clowns from the big city.

From somewhere very not-here, the wonderfully millennial Biggest Little Circus have a distinctive aesthetic, a kind of Tarzan-meets-Jane at the-ice-cream-shop look, with a slight whiff of the non-binary about them. This is not Rotorua’s usual entertainment and it is delightfully refreshing; appropriately ‘fringe’ in this conservative small town. 

While Degge makes grand promises through a loudspeaker about the line-up of mind-blowing tricks and stunts to come, Zane bounds into lively audience interaction, using physical theatre and hammed up emotion to garner audience favour. He repeatedly fails at this – a running theme of the show – then vies, surreptitiously, for the sympathies of various men in the crowd. 

Proportioned and clean cut, Zane claims space, romping with the confidence of a man whose pants seem almost intentionally tight. Degge counters this with adopted comical awkwardness, his height and slightness feel less intimidating and his voice is rich with agency. I decide he’s the dad of the show.

After a few bungled beginnings, the combined attempts of the almost-impressive, mostly-goofy, warm-up acts and the laughably idiotic ‘dance section’, the show starts to feel… crumbly – the big gag possibly being this rousing array of empty promises – when Imogen, the beaming and obviously brilliant aerialist of the troupe, and by far the most physically daring, asks brightly, “Rotorua, have you ‘freed the nipple’ yet?” In our blank faced confusion, she declares Rotorua’s initiation into “liberating the nipple!”

This is during one of two extended costume changes, where members of the audience are required to form human ‘walls’ around an undressing Jarvie brother, in the name of public decency. Like teeth, men are pulled from the crowd to huddle around Zane as he strips down into a hot pink and yellow, leopard-print lycra leotard then spills my favourite giggle line.

“Degge,” he whines, “You aren’t dressed right. Imogen and I are all ‘party leopard’, ‘party leopard,’ and you’re wearing, ‘old couch from the 1980s.” By this portion of the show, the audience is fully on board, laughing freely and whooping along.

Degge’s costume change requires an audience change: women of the crowd are encouraged to break free and “run up” to close around Degge. At first no one runs. He’s offended; it’s hilarious. He frees the nipple.

From here on, the act flexes muscle, showcasing impressive circo art skills to bright music and continuous headset commentary – a device that expertly softens any shock from the tendency to venture into challenging territory: homoerotic innuendo, the crass, the base, the political – an oversharing and self-deprecating idiosyncratic banter that subtly exposes the real human vulnerabilities of the improv street performers from inside the performance.

To be honest, I can’t help but feel a soaring hope for humanity as I watch these politically emboldened dare-devils. Zane’s camp exuberance comes with a homoerotic edge that could polarise the crowd but the trio’s awkward adorability makes their comedy ironic enough to be almost macho in its daring.

Eventually the show reaches its grand finale which is genuinely anxiety-inducing: their final ‘trick’ is performed at the top of the metres-high rig. Suspended way up, sans net, Imogen achieves a perfect handstand while the Jarvie brothers proceed to ignite, then juggle flaming batons about her impressive form.

Dusk is falling fast, the performers near naked bodies are competing against a declining temperature. Light from the flames bounces around their skin and it is at once breath-taking and heart-stopping. Then Degge introduces the final finale, ‘Brazilian by Burning’. We laugh then gasp as Imogen extends into splits while flames streak over her. The crowd, as predicted by Degge at the opening of the show, then goes appreciatively wild.


Observing the B.L.C’s interaction with the audience, I delighted at their incisive persistence in selecting men from the crowd. ‘Awkward’ is all part of the act. They don’t invite participation, they insist on it. Resistance is futile – the buskers come right to you, soliciting chest bumps and cuddles as required. “Just lift up that child, sir – yes – and simply throw it away. I need you.”

Delivering a show that entertains with relatable yet subversive charm while challenging new boundaries of masculinity for all make, for me at least, the Biggest Little Circus the ‘darlings’ of Rotorua’s Fringe Festival.


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