The Ringmaster tells the story of a disastrous circus act gone wrong – with deadly results. Told through a series of monologues, Tom Proffitt’s original script creates a vibrant and intriguing world, tied together with strong performances and a great production design.
The audience is invited into an unnamed circus, where we hear from Charlie the Clown, an unnamed little girl, and the ringmaster Jasper. Throughout a series of monologues, we learn of the characters’ ties to the circus, their attitudes to each other, and some of the dark secrets that encompass their lives. Behind the lively and garish façade of the circus, there are constant hints of something more sinister underneath.
In particular, the play handles the idea of an unreliable narrator well. As we hear from Charlie and Jasper, and witness their impressions of each other, we realise that the truth lies somewhere in between each character’s version of events. However I did feel that this could have been made more explicit, and that some of the ideas that the script suggested could have been pushed further in order to maintain the pace of the play. Whilst the scripts had moments of real magic – I particularly enjoyed the simplicity of the final scene – more precision in the monologues would have really energised the piece.
This is not to say that the performances were not energetic, however. All three performers were able to capture the underlying sinister nature of the circus in their performances. Daniel Morris as Charlie had a manic delivery, playing both the show-man side of the clown and the man behind it with conviction. It would have been a welcome addition to the play if he had been given an opportunity to do more actual clowning, as he clearly would have excelled at it from the snippets we could see. Isabelle Cadwallader played the part of the unnamed young girl with wonderful conviction, and a wonderful sense of tragedy in the quieter moments. Her quick movements and energetic physicality brilliantly conveyed her young age. Matteo Bagiani brought the show to a thundering conclusion, with his monologue being the most bitter and twisted of the three, further blurring the lines between murder and “career suicide.”
The set design was excellent, with a big-top being created in Studio A with a highwire going over the audience’s heads. The choice to stage the play in the round created a proper circus-like feel, although during Cadwallader’s monologue the blocking of her sitting and facing one section of the audience at a time did mean that the audience members on the other side of the round did not see her for significant chunks of the monologue. The lighting and sound design was simple, and evocative of a circus-like feel. The costumes and make-up were particularly stand-out, with Charlie’s clown ensemble being the perfect blend of circus and scary.
The Ringmaster is an excellent evening of theatre, that’ll make you think twice about the people you’re watching and what’s really going on behind the scenes. The play is clearly a love letter to theatre and the nature of performance, complimented greatly by the skill of the actors and crew involved.
Edited by: Jessica Greaney