Sophie's Surprise 29th at Edinburgh Fringe ★★★½

Sophie’s Surprise 29th at Edinburgh Fringe ★★★½

★★★½ Sophie’s Surprise 29th | Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows | Aug 12-13, 15-20, 22-26 | 9:45pm

Individual circus brilliance shines through in a new show which feels like a theme in search of a cohesive narrative.

Circus can just be circus – incredible acrobatic, strength, balance and/or juggling skills for their own sake. Or, it can be structured around a narrative structure (such as one of our favourite shows, Cantina – or, of course any of the seemingly millions of Cirque du Soleil shows). Aiming for the latter can have a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts effect, raising already excellent performances to a whole new level. But if you miss the target, the whole thing can feel a bit ‘meh’.

With Sophie’s Surprise 29th, Three Legged Race Productions avoid the ‘meh’ but the narrative needs more work. As it stands, Sophie’s… is a showcase for some excellent circus performances, with occasional moments of audience interaction with a ‘Sophie’ for each night.

This is the first production for this group of performers working together, so inevitably there are some wrinkles to iron out. Perhaps leading with two aerial acts in a row could do with some rethinking, and maybe Sam Goodburn needs to risk taking his cheeky act to the next level for a late night audience. But we’re nitpicking. Individually, the skills on show in this production are impressive, and our Friday night audience seemed suitably wowed, particularly by Katharine Arnold seductive second act of the night, on the aerial hoop, and Cornelius Atkinson has hearts a fluttering with his brooding goth looks and combination of strength and agility in the air.

The closing performance, with Atkinson, Isis Clegg-Vinell & Nathan Redwood Price displaying awesome balance, strength and – for Clegg-Vinell in particular – trust and bravery, looks genuinely tricky (though perhaps could benefit from some bolder lighting and soundtracking). And of course, Goodburn bring his nerdcore clownery and trademark unicycle reverse striptease, which always wows even with a few missteps.

An entertaining night then, and a good start for a new show – with some minor improvements, this could be a major hit!