Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

10/04/2020 - 10/04/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

A disturbing fable set in the timeless fantasy world of a travelling circus – where the Ringmaster rules and dreadful secrets are buried and forgotten. A fairy-tale that was never told.

The Circus of Errors by Sam Trubridge

Broadcast 28 Feb 2010 
 Listen duration54′ :02″  

Cast: Simon Ferry, Peter Vere-Jones, Jed Brophy, Matthew Chamberlain, Esther Rose Green, Nathan Meister, Byron Coll, Adam Macaulay 

Sam Trubridge is a performance designer, and artistic director for The Playground NZ. He directed and designed the company’s first work The Restaurant of Many Orders (UK, NZ, Italy) and with sleep scientist Philippa Gander created Sleep/Wake  for The Auckland Festival 2009. In 2010 he extended this collaboration with The Waking Incubator: a trans-disciplinary symposium with arts practitioners and sleep scientists. He is associate editor (Oceania) for World Scenography, a survey of performance design from 1975-2015. Until recently he lectured in Performance Design and Spatial Design at Massey University (NZ) and programmed Massey’s Print Factory Performance Laboratory. He directs the annual Performance Arcade on Wellington Waterfront.

Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

55 mins

Cleverly patterned images and a fine sense of intrigue

Review by Lindsay Clark 11th Apr 2020

Everybody loves the circus, usually a by-word for daring and fantastical acts where we are ranged at a safe distance from actual danger or able to chuckle freely at comedy turns. The Circus of Errors gives us a different and darker experience, operating through images and ideas conjured from the playwright’s words and a suggestive sound scape. It does offer though an absorbing and at times tantalising succession of events, controlled at least initially by the particularly vivid character of Ringmaster (Peter Vere-Jones). 

Styling himself as the “head priest in this carnival of riotous implausibility”, he promises us a world under canvas, operating under its own rules and by its own logic. There’ll be “magic and muck” such as we’ve never known, while in the background the conventional circus music helps draw us in.

Certainly the acts introduced are enough to whet the appetite: the cow wrestler and his herd of wild beasts; the strong man who can carry a horse in each hand; the equestrian dancer who is allergic to the ground; and Jim, the oldest clown, teller of tales and keeper of the past. Then there is Vera who never closes her eyes, though as a mute observer she can communicate through a chalk on slate. Her omniscience, announced by the Ringmaster, is typical of the delicately sinister note established by the production.

Stepping up in a sideshow, and a counter to the hyperbole spouted so far, is Dan Joe, the Nicest Man in the World. Speaking entirely naturally, he promises no tricks and that his title will be the only lie told. In what is beginning to take the shape of a fable, he is not well received by the crowd, who want “something nice”. He is rebuked by the Ringmaster for antagonising folk and we see an emerging positioning of truth and fiction, heightened when virtuous Dan Joe heads to the well to converse with a mysterious twin, chained up down there. The twin will later become a key player in events, but initially, for me, a note of horror and mystery is struck. 

That is created, too, as the ancient clown Jim does his Telling of characters’ past lives, creating an impression of repetition as the circus tent is taken down and hauled on but always ends up in the same place, with the same well, the same mysterious occupant, but with more muck for the lowly to shift before the show can go on.

Eventually a clear revenge trail unwinds, with the Ringmaster meeting an unpleasant end, a sort of justice. No such luck for the virtuous Dan Joe though, ending up mistaken for his twin in a sly reference to The Comedy of Errors and its innocent capers.

A tale that adds up to more than its parts, the lasting impression for me is of cleverly patterned images and a fine sense of intrigue.


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