Interviews: The Revel Puck Circus & Party Ghost

The innovators behind The Wing Scuffle Spectacular and Party Ghost talk about celebrating fear

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Party Ghost
Photo by Hamish McCormick
Published 30 Jul 2023

Of the many modes of self-expression available to audiences at the festivals, few carry as much inherent risk as the circus. That’s arguably the chief draw, after all. And while the art form’s history is steeped in bravado, spectacle and exploitation, it has stayed fresh thanks to scores of new, young companies refining, challenging and modernising the discipline.

Fear, naturally, has always played a core role. But where traditional circus might have portrayed its players as fearless daredevils, modern efforts take a more honest, personal approach. The Revel Puck Circus, an East London-based troupe formed in 2018, is bringing The Wing Scuffle Spectacular to Edinburgh for the first time. Fiona Thornhil, the outfit’s general manager (and resident Cyr wheeler), calls it “a celebration of fear”. 

“It's real people doing extraordinary skills,” she says. “We're not afraid of things going wrong. In fact, we lean into it.”

There has been a growing trend in contemporary circus – particularly in younger companies – of weaving performers’ individual stories into the fabric of a production. In that vein, Wing Scuffle’s 10-strong cast each have routines tailored to their personal fears, and we, as the audience, join their journey in facing them. (Via, of course, a clown who “is scared of everything”.)

From the other side of the world, another troupe seeks to explore the personal while deconstructing circus conventions. Australians Olivia Porter and Jarred Dewey – both seasoned acrobats in their own right – stormed the Adelaide Fringe this year, winning the overall Best Circus award for Party Ghost

An intimate, darkly comic two-person show, Party Ghost marries Porter’s fascination with death and Dewey’s fascination with birthdays, uniting their complementary specialisms and senses of humour. Unlike Wing Scuffle, this is very much not for kids – though they couldn’t give me much in the way of specifics without spoilers. “It’s a show of reveals,” says Dewey.

The Revel Puck Circus

“The one thing we can tell you,” says Porter, “is you'll never be able to listen to ‘Hello’ by Adele the same way ever again.” The press imagery and trailer feature spooky doll heads, birthday hats, strangulation and dismemberment – so take from that what you will. 

These two shows also represent very different scales of production. The Pucks (as Thornhill affectionately calls them) have taken the traditions of a big top circus show – big cast, big stunts, fun for all the family – and channelled them into a modern, inclusive joyride that doesn’t compromise the company’s values.

“It is born out of the idea that circus should evolve and be accessible for absolutely everyone, from every walk of life,” says Thornhill proudly. As a company, they are founded on an ethos of community outreach, sustainability and empowerment, ensuring everyone in the troupe has a voice. “A bunch of mates who are trying to do circus in the right way in the 21st century.” 

Not that Porter and Dewey are against the idea of big variety spectaculars or ensemble productions. They met while doing La Clique in Leicester Square in 2016 (“immediately there was a kind of an alchemy between us,” says Dewey), and have massive respect for those kinds of shows. 

“Because you get to see the five minutes of the best that artists can do,” Dewey continues. “But this show gives an audience 50 minutes to get to know us as people, which is a lot more intimate.”

They’ve both relished the opportunity to have total control over both the macro and micro. ”It's my pride and joy show,” beams Porter. Like The Wing Scuffle Spectacular, Party Ghost is an expression of its constituent members, writ large and yet captivatingly personal.

“We like to make light of dark things and just have a really good time, and have the audience have a really good time too,” says Dewey, before pausing a moment and adding: “While doing some sweet tricks.”