Review: The Flying Karamazov Brothers – Vaudeville Theatre

Any theatrical event is a bit of a juggling act, coordinating a plethora of diverse skills to make a whole entertainment. The latest arrival into the West End takes the notion one step further, literally keeping multiple items in the air at any one time.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers, a quartet of American comedians, musicians and jugglers, have had huge success in the states over the last 38 years and, although the line up may have changed over that time – no they aren’t really brothers – their skill is something to marvel.

The show itself is an eclectic mix of madcap slapstick, music, ballet and, of course, a virtuoso display of juggling. It alls sounds rather old fashioned variety, and perhaps it’s appropriate to be playing at the Vaudeville theatre, but the anarchic edge gives it a uniquely contemporary feel.

You know this is no traditional show from the moment the house lights dim and a sardonic voice runs through a half-hearted pre show announcement warning the audience that the use of mobile phone, recording equipment and firearms are not allowed.

Once the curtain rises we get to meet the Karamazovs themselves, four kilted Americans with a maniacal streak. Over the course of 90minutes, their juggling skills take centre stage with precision routines, jazz juggling (you have to be there to get the explanation), and a flame-filled finale.

There’s more to this show than flying clubs (and torches, eggs, cream and jelly) though. Interspersed with the circustry is wacky slapstick reminisant of the Marx Brothers, an analogy the foursome acknowledge onstage, and surreal musical montages.

Paul Magid, Mark Erringer, Roderick Kimball and Stephen Bent work well together, a trait vital given the split second timing and trust required for many of their routines. The show itself has an improvised feel about it, however one suspects the archaic nature is carefully rehearsed and not as random as it seems.

This is a show that relies heavily on a pumped up audience to provide the necessary encouragement and, with the traditional British reserve; it may be something of a struggle for the Brothers to whip up that vital support. Indeed, on this particular grey Monday evening, that vital audience spark seemed somewhat lacking.

One feels that this is a show that really comes alive with a late night, alcohol-fuelled audience and that a large West End theatre is perhaps not the natural territory for this show.

There is certainly nothing else like The Flying Karamazov Brothers in the West End but, despite the skill and the talent on stage, there is something lacking to make this a truly unmissable evening.

Enjoyable? Yes. Clever? Yes. Breathtaking? Not quite.

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