Over the years I have come to realise that there are only three true art forms. These are Punch and Judy, pantomime and circus. Of these, the greatest is whichever I have most recently seen.
That said, Gostinitsa, the Hotel of Curiosities, currently showing on Southsea Common from the Moscow State Circus, is one of the most accomplished circus offers I have ever seen here – and I have seen many, many circuses over the years.
From the opening tableau, in which the performers arrive at the hotel and intrigue the audience with the promise of what’s to come conveyed with smiles, greasepaint and outlandish costumes, there is something eccentric, self-contained and artistically integral throughout. This is circus and Vaudeville and fantasy rolled into one heady mix.
Let’s start with those costumes. From steampunk kids to 1920s flappers, through comedy bellboys and Cossack bandits, to otherworldly tightrope walkers the colour of living air, there is something so perfect in the visual design that the aesthetic of the show actually at moments took my breath away.
Add to this perfect timing and extraordinary assuredness in the acts and the fact that each act brings with it a genuine surprise and you realise you are watching a show that is truly world class. From skipping routine to highwire act, the show has an extraordinary energy and something way beyond that…
Many years ago, I realised that if I had my life again, I wouldn’t have wasted it in intellectual pursuits, but would instead make dreams happen, help embody the impossible and cause people to gasp at the potential in human beings. The hard work may not have suited me, I suppose, and may well have wrecked me – but it might also have been something that was an all-consuming passion that made my life whole. That is how it feels when I stand on the outside looking in. I am in love with the circus.
Whether that daydream is true or not, I will never know, of course. But when I watch shows the quality of Gostinitsa, I feel like I have opened a curtain not just on another way of life, but on a whole other world, an Oz, a Narnia, in which the normal rules of physics don’t apply any more.
I have often wept at the beauty of circuses. Tonight, the tightness came to my throat again – and for what? The sheer joy of seeing the absolute cream of acrobatic performers weave a dream before me.
I recommend this show with all my heart, and hope you get the same joyous, anarchic, erotic, crazy hit from it I do. Gostinitsa is a dream come to life.