A girls’ night out at Circus Roncalli in Hamburg

Expect Hamburg in July fully in the guest play season as most theatres are taking a summer break. A girls’ night out has therefore been arranged to visit Germany’s most famous circus, so popular it leads Playmobil’s evergreen range for decades, completely with the Roncalli branding and its signature tent and performers. Recently Roncalli received global attention when replacing animal acts with holograms as a statement against the suffering during travels – a much discussed topic in Germany for years. We arrive half an hour before the gates open, joining a queue with easily hundred people already ahead of us; tickets define the area you sit on but do not dedicate seats. The audience is a refreshing mix of all possible demographic constellations, rarely seen nowadays. While the girls in front of us read their Viking tree horoscopes to each other, we admire the circus wagons and food stalls.

I am all up for modern twists but this is what a classic circus should look like

Jugglers, clowns and a band welcome us to the Circus-Theater Roncalli but not the expected scent of sawdust and popcorn. A screen around the ring introduces us in fascinating 3D films about the historic relationships between animals and humans and how circuses reflected this through the centuries – time moved on though as did the demands of entertainment and then not only horses arrive but elephants and even massive goldfish. On digital film retired clown legend Paul Bernhard us from a hot-air balloon and introduces us to Roncalli’s new Storyteller program but these are all pictures we have seen in the international media already. It might disappoint those having come tonight mainly for augmented reality – Roncalli is confident enough to entertain for over two hours without becoming a computer nerd’s dream but proves that classic circus acts, magicians and acrobats do not need multidimensional enhancement. The introduction is a statement, not a spectacle.

This is a cruelty-free performance: Animals 2.0

There is an incredible long and hilarious beatboxing act, completely in English and so funny that my cheekbones hurt for hours. Red nosed clowns sabotage others’ illusionist acts, there are acrobats on ropes, trapezes, stilts and everything else which can be climbed and lifted in mind blowing stunts, human pyramids, glittery costumes and baroque wigs. A quartet of acrobats juggles each other, we see a clockwork fairytale about a steampunk conductor and his mechanical dog and further a comedic janitor performing perfectly in sync with hilariously timed sound effects.

A live band plays along and in the interval you can exchange words with the performers. It is warm in the tent now on this mild summer evening and the lights glow around the tent ropes and the beautiful caravans around us. Munching burnt almonds (a fair ground specialty) we return to our bench and realize only during the finale that we would have loved to see more hologram wildlife – but then again, Roncalli proved that they do not have to go down a desperate route of artificial modernization, that they know exactly what they are doing and how to do it best.

**** of 5 stars

We paid 37.30 Euro per ticket (incl. fees and travel via public transport) for seats in Rang B

Circus Roncalli has by now moved on by its iconic circus trains

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