4 Mar 2016

Review: La Cucina dell'Arte

From the collecton Arts Festivals 2016
La Cucina dell'Arte

La Cucina dell'Arte Photo: Supplied

In the smallest big top I’ve ever sat in, tucked into a corner of Aotea Square, two performers weave circus tricks together with some amiable comedy.

Drawn from commedia dell’arte, a broad form of physical theatre featuring stock characters in farcical situations, this show with an Italian theme (performed in Italian) has the setting of a pizza restaurant. Whatever their language skills, audiences would find no barrier to enjoyment, though, as it’s primarily a piece of clowning done with brio by brothers Danny and David Ronaldo.

The action involves an older bossier brother, and a younger one who is always getting into trouble, preparing a pizza meal for two punters pulled up onto the stage from the audience.

What ensues is plenty of slapstick, and some clever circus acts involving lighting a chandelier, juggling plates, rolling pizza dough and then spinning it, and a final sequence involving plates spinning on poles. Danny Ronaldo in particular is accomplished at both at the comedy and the spectacle, and each trick builds towards a satisfying climax.

But that’s it – five bits of circus business in total for a show which lasts 75 minutes. Even though some of them, such as the climactic plate-spinning, are tremendous fun because the action is stretched out so long, others wear thin when the business runs on long past its obvious cut-off point.

There is one unexpected pleasure – at least for those who are not in the hot seats. One man is pulled from the audience to sit at a restaurant table for two. The younger brother has chosen a woman from his side of the circus tent, only to have her returned to her seat by the older brother, who has chosen another woman for the special dining experience.

The comedy which springs from this simple pretext is genuinely charming, and sustained right until the end of the show. Several other audience members are drawn into the action onstage, and later everyone in the audience is involved with placing an order for pizza as the younger brother desperately tries to keep all the plates spinning on their poles.

The Belgian Circus Ronaldo has been touring this show for at least eight years – and you can see its appeal for festival scheduling. It’s genial, fine for all the family to attend (despite the uncomfortable seats), and although it could be 20 or 30 minutes shorter, it still delivers charm in abundance.