I’ve never seen a pantomime like Le Grand Magic Circus – and I’ve never seen a circus like it either. In fact, to say that Robinson Crusoe, which the Grand Magic Circus is staging at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, until January 20 is unique is no overstatement.
In short, you don’t get to see many pantomimes that don’t have women dressed up as men trying to look like women as the principals or men dressed up as women trying to look like men dressed as women in support roles. Le Grand Magic Circus has none of the overblown panto about it.
Instead of a yesterday’s pop idol clutching onto a hand-mike, Robinson Crusoe gives us the mime that gave panto its name. Forget yer usual R.C. story, this one has Crusoe hanging around in a hammock watching the telly while Friday pulls massive cardboard vegetables out of the ground.
So it’s not a pantomime in today’s accepted-and-debased sense. It’s real theatre. And it’s no ordinary circus, either. The only animals used are a few birds (a chicken and a goose inter alia) who make noisy and unexpected entrances from various parts of the auditorium. Otherwise the zebras, very obviously human underneath it all.
Le Grand Magic Circus started life as a street-theatre group in the Paris troubles of May 1968. Robinson Crusoe has grown out of that. It works on two levels, it’s fun and it’s a piece of propaganda about the telly-watching landlord Crusoe, who’s not sure he wants to be rescued while life’s so soft on his island.
This is one band of actors who can get me to pay to see it a second time, and get me to forget all my reservations and participate. Robinson Crusoe is quite easily the most interesting thing on London’s stage. But the Circus leaves town on January 20. Get in quick and see the show. It may be a long time before you get another chance.