Part of the awesome Fringe City festival, FreeRange consisted of a giant orb-like marquee erected alongside a small smattering of smaller tents, bars and food outlets. The highlight and headline of the festivities (which included a show from Nicholas Parsons and an Insect Circus) was undoubtedly the ‘Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus’, a supposedly dark, adult twist on the traditional circus show.
Entering the stadium not knowing what to expect, the audience were quietly shown which bits of bench to cram themselves into, while a small assortment of dark jester-like clowns entertained those already settled with illusory and slick tricks. After a handful of minutes the show was all set to begin; the crowd were soon treated to an opening cinematic in the guise of an X factor parody, cleverly named ‘The Clown Factor’. Five minutes of embarrassingly poor attempts at humour later, the performers rampaged onto stage in a frenzy of bizarre acts. One oddball man was lowered from a harness onto the stage while the others fannied about swiping at him and generally causing havoc. Just what the fuck was happening in narrative or even literal terms was almost impossible to ascertain.
After this much ado about nothing, a sultry burlesque-esque lady, the host for the evening, stepped up to the stage and explained, in quite possibly the worst (Scottish-Russian?) accent of all time, the general plot of what had came before and what was to follow. I won’t bother repeating it here, suffice to say it was rather contrived and pointless. The show itself consisted of disgusting acts of self-harm and humiliation, ranging from classics like lying on a bed of nails and run over by a motorbike to more unusual and vomit-inducing acts like hammering a 5-inch nail into their fucking faces. Some moments such as this were genuinely unique and awe-inspiring, if a little gross, so it was a shame that so much of the show felt like filler. All too often tens of minutes went by with needless exposition playing out or one neat trick would be repeated until all the effect had been lost, in particular their heavy reliance on whip-related stunts.
Overall this clowncore gypsy clusterfuck was shocking and thrilling in equal measure at its best, though ultimately rarely transcended routine stunts padded by truly awful intros and set-pieces. Although I cannot knock their ambition, ballsiness and hardcore attitude, a 5-minute compilation of the core four members would have been way more fun than this 9-person, 150-minute snorefest. Interestingly, although I knew not what to expect from the Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus – it was somehow almost exactly what I had imagined it would be.