It’s the 10th anniversary of this iconic London festival – the purple cow is now a familiar sight next to the London Eye. Underbelly Festival Southbank 2018 runs until 30 September. Theatre editor Daniel Perks catches up with headline circus act Circolombia:

Underbelly Festival Southbank 2018 – it was one of my Theatre Picks this spring. Now in its tenth year, the familiar sight of the purple cow goes from strength to strength after last year’s merger with The Spiegeltent to present a consolidated programme that celebrates circus, comedy, cabaret and family entertainment. In the 250th anniversary year of the first ever circus (staged in Waterloo), the festival brings its biggest circus programme ever – five headline shows from five countries on four continents!

Underbelly Festival Southbank

Underbelly Festival Southbank (image courtesy of David Jensen)

Here at Miro Magazine, we are incredibly excited to help the festival celebrate this year by profiling the headline circus acts that are coming to both of its stages. Next up in our Spotlight feature is Circolombia, which plays Underbelly Festival Southbank until 14 July 2018. I caught up with Director and Creative Producer Felicity Simpson:

Circolombia Underbelly Southbank Festival

Congratulations on your headline slot at the 10th anniversary Underbelly Southbank Festival. How does it feel to be performing here for your London premiere of Circolombia?

‘Mighty fine, right place, right time. London’s my home town which I left at the age of 18 for South America – so great to be back. And to bring a bit of Colombia home too.

‘Circolombia is a 100% Colombian circus concert, which captures the energy, diversity and electric dynamism of the country’s rich culture. It’s fearless and ambitious and we’re very excited to share this with Underbelly, celebrating their 10th year on Southbank.’

You’ve had a wonderful journey with the show since from Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 as part of a global tour. Can you share your thoughts about the journey over the last year?

‘Being listed as the number one show in Edinburgh through all the reviews was a bit of a shock actually. Jeez, 95.6% Box office success, while we were just doing what we love with grace guts and gusto.

‘Circolombia never stops evolving – what’s wonderful about a show like this is its constant development. Our artists are always striving for the next thing, reaching for something more, and this means the performance evolves night by night and season by season. Our show is all about taking risks, in life & on stage, and having the courage to move forward, so we do live and breathe our art.

‘Life in Bogota (where the company are from) has such an accelerated pace and explosive energy, which we have really enjoyed bringing to the stage and sharing with the world.’

Circolombia Underbelly Southbank Festival

What was it about circus that inspired you to become a performer in the first place?

‘I got into drama school when I was 16 and on my first day I ran out of the door! I couldn’t possibly spend two years with these people. I fled to Paris because I was a unicyclist anyway and played the trumpet. There I discovered that circus could be an amazing vehicle; circus has no frontiers to reach people’s emotions. The freedom to move with few words and mind-blowing movements, it comes into town, inspires and then evaporates.

‘Not that inspired by European Circus, but most impressed with a Mexican soloist, I was looking for more life, energy and vibrancy, so packed my unicycle and went off to Brazil. It was there while we were establishing a new type of circus, Intrepida Trupe, that I met a most hairy Colombian man who became my professional partner – Hector Fabio Cobo Plata. For 18 years we had a fantastic life as performers until his death in 2001.’

Who else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival, or throughout the year as we celebrate 250 years of circus?

Nina Conti – yes yes yes, I love her. And throughout the year I’m eagerly awaiting the surprises that each new circus brings. We just performed in Philip Astley‘s birthplace at Newcastle Under Lyme to celebrate the birth of modern circus. It was great to travel from the amazing Winter Circus in Amsterdam, over to a Big Top in a field of Stoke/ Newcastle and then over to the Finnish National Theatre. Circus is everywhere this year and all of Europe is celebrating. Underbelly has pulled out all the stops from London to Edinburgh too.’

Circolombia Underbelly Southbank Festival

Who are your inspirations in this field, or in your creative journey itself?

‘The artists. Circus is the only art form where risking your life is a daily ritual. Folk like you and me have a constant need to see and believe in the impossible – this makes us feel alive. Our artists are constantly defying those risks, standing on the edge of what’s possible and reaching further.

‘Creative midwife Mark Storor was vital in taking the artists to a safe space in order to create; choreographer Carlos Neto, a speedy chap and always a joy to work with – I consider us curators as the process is eternal devising.’

Do you have a particular circus discipline that you most enjoy performing, directing or creating on stage?

‘I do have a penchant for big group acts, when the ethos of circus comes into play.

‘But really it’s less about a favourite discipline – I think I most enjoy collaborating with an artist and working with them to create something meaningful. To bring their own story, sound and voice to their performance. The way that together we can bring their power and energy to touch the person in the very back seat of a theatre, that’s the magic.’



Circolombia runs at the Underbelly Festival Southbank until 14 July 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.