The three Head First Acrobats drink and Elixir and are embued with acrobatic side effects. Daniel Perks reviews this fusion of slapstick and circus:

In their quest to find a magical Elixir, three acrobats don lab coats and drink potions – they are their own test subjects in this colourful performance. Of course, each potion has a different side effect – it transforms Thomas Gorham into a break dancing zombie, produces cyr wheel ability onto Rowan Thomas and confers superhuman strength and balance on both Gorham and Cal Harris. But the results, as the disembodied robotic voice indicates, are nothing exceptional.

Elixir Underbelly Festival Southbank

Cal Harris (image courtesy of Matilda Temperley)

It’s refreshing to see a contemporary circus show that aims to have a concept, even if the narrative is somewhat threadbare. The trio play to their audience, looking for laughs and getting plenty back. But there’s far too much pandering to the crowd and not nearly enough technical circus elements in a show that purports to be an equal concoction of acrobatics and slapstick. The latter comes in droves.

While the chemistry in Elixir isn’t found in the mad scientist mixing of colourful potions, it’s clear to see in the trio’s relationship. Both comedy and energy come across – these three are first and foremost enjoying themselves, infecting the audience with their brand of confidence and camaraderie. They play up to the laughs, but such is the nature of the act – frying pans to the face; water ‘accidentally’ spilt over the audience; playful contests of machismo, all are part and parcel of this performance. They find their stride in the segues, but as a result the technical circus loses impact. Such protracted transitions break the momentum of the piece – Elixir is filler without substance.

Elixir Underbelly Festival Southbank

Rowan Thomas (image courtesy of Sarah Tallott)

When the acrobatic performances do appear, they are competent and well executed, but not inherently original. Gorham’s work on the head trapeze and his break dancing are impressive, as is the poise and build-up of Thomas on the cyr wheel. Harris has strength in his balancing – combining the difficulty of hand balancing while on top of a ladder goes down a storm. There’s an inherent ease to the whole performance that confers confidence in the performers’ ability. But it doesn’t go that one step further – it’s neither technically nor creatively unique.

Elixir Underbelly Festival Southbank

Thomas Gorham (image courtesy of Matilda Temperley)

The Head First Acrobats also have a children’s show, which may well be more successful – the elements of entertainment in Elixir will translate well into a family performance. By holding the crowd and delivering a pleasant, inoffensive show, these three demonstrate their ability to deliver slapstick and farce. But there isn’t nearly enough circus in Elixir to merit a spectacle.




Elixir runs at the Underbelly Festival Southbank until 23 June 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.