16
Jul
2011

The Flying Karamazov Brothers

The strap-line for The Flying Karamazov Brothers says ‘They don’t fly, they’re not Russian and they’re not brothers’ but fails to mention they’re also not very entertaining.

As this juggling and comedy troupe have been performing since 1973, you’d think they’ve had enough time to really nail their act – instead they’re dangerously teetering on the tedious.

An ever-changing line-up, still including one of the founding members (Paul David Magid), tours in three separate four member troupes, performing simultaneously in different countries. Old-timer, Magid, describes the gang as a ‘bit Mel Brooks, a bit Marx Brothers, a bit Goon Show and a bit Monty Python.’

Opening with an unfunny mock pre-show announcement commenting on the emptiness of modern life is certainly not the best way to win-over an already thin audience. The rest of the show centres around the four ‘brothers’ considerable juggling ability and is fleshed out by surreal exchanges. They begin by a long sequence involving the reorganisation of their cardboard box strewn stage to peskily conceal a box painted with an exclamation mark much to the ‘annoyance’ of one of the gang.

A metronome mirror/table act drags but things hot up a little when the square dance skittle juggling begins and during the ‘Taiko festival drums’ trick, that’s accompanied by some pretty amusing facial expressions. An uninspiring repetitive first half is almost salvaged by the ‘Percussion Rhapsody For Juggling Ensemble’ and a genuinely clever routine involving members of the crew playing each other’s musical instruments while they manage to somehow continue singing and juggling.

The entire show builds up to an exceedingly anti-climactic ‘terror routine’ in the second half which is made all the more uninspiring by dropped glow balls in the preceding black-out trick. Spoof sword play is embarrassing to watch but thankfully flame juggling around an audience victim and ‘The Challenge’ give us something to gawp at.

The brothers have an endearing child-like excitement, energy and sense of humour, making mock straining noises as they juggle. At times they are like kids playing with each other, lost in the moment, forgetting they’re actually performers and bombarding us with laboured ‘dad jokes’, like ‘I didn’t go to college for nothing – I had to pay for it’.

Their attempts to be clever and philosophical, telling us ‘Science, tricks and art are all jugglery’, are entirely misplaced. Very occasionally however, there are a few genuinely funny jokes where they make fun of their own origins: ‘In America, freedom means having the right to be sick and dumb’. Other random attempts at humour fall-flat and it’s difficult not to wonder whether gags are more successful in their native country.

High on audience participation, the show is full of pantomime cheers and boos and our ‘entertainers’ arrogantly give themselves a standing ovation before custard pie-ing an audience member. While the second half actually manages to be even less amusing than the first, it at least includes some of the most impressive juggling acts but sadly mistakes are visibly made. Musical talents are the troupe’s real strength. Amid all the tomfoolery, a jokey ukulele song, a barbershop-style intermission song and snippets of classical piano stand-out.

Feeling like a Shakespearean interlude full of plenty of base humour,  The Flying Karamazov Brothers is certainly mesmerizing at times and has to be credited for its ingeniously misleading marketing ploy. Bravely returning to a vaudeville style kind of variety show, combining singing, circus-style tricks, skits, acts, comedy and music, despite good intentions the brothers are nothing more than one trick ponies tiresomely saddled up with slapstick fillers.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are performing until 10 September at:

Vaudeville Theatre
404 The Strand
Soho
WC2R 0NH

Tel: 0844 482 9675

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