Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show (Regent Theatre) – theatre review

Circa Contemporary Circus has teamed with Aardman Studio to bring to life Shaun, the sheep who has been creating mischief and much mirth with his animal friends since 2007. I haven’t watched the original television series, but I have seen the two Shaun the Sheep movies – the first of which was released in 2015 and I really enjoyed.

The nine circus performers – six men and three women – involved in this production are particularly polished at their craft. They make even the most difficult feats appear effortless. The show features a series of skits – complete with baas, barks and snorts – in keeping with the flavour of the television show and films. The flock and other characters manage to continually pull the wool (pun fully intended) over a blissfully unaware farmer’s eyes.

Photos by Prudence Upton

Many of the circus arts – involving strength, balance, dexterity and flexibility – are on display. The artistes tumble, juggle and climb. The show starts when the farmer opens a largish box to reveal a television screen, which he carries into his home. Then we are introduced to the various characters who populate what is known as Mossy Bottom Farm. There are the sheep, including Shaun, sheep dog Bitzer, Shirley the rotund sheep who is particularly fond of pizza, Timmy the lamb and his mum, the bull and the postman.

A large video screen, made to look like a giant billboard, links the live action with the television series. It beams animated sequences to us – the audience – in keeping with what is happening on stage. The pigs appear to be the sheep’s nemesis, the bull is cruisin’ for a bruisin’, while the farmer’s eyesight is poor at the best of times. Timmy is distraught when his paper plane gets caught in the trees and the flock tries everything to retrieve it. A runaway tyre gives plenty of room for the troupe to excel and use it as a prop to roll with, jump on top of and tumble through.

At a point in the show, one of the sheep is even shorn. Cue the laughter. There is a mighty sequence concerning a stoush between Bitzer and the postie that requires leaping, sliding and more. The arrival of a new remote control sees Bitzer and Shaun stuck together acrobatically. A summer holiday special has the cast involved in a colourful act involving a ring, soft plastic toys, a mini trampoline and a skipping rope, being a power cord. As to the latter, a ewe slurping a large faux ice cream sits atop a ram, that skips. But then trouble strikes, when a large pair of scissors unfortunately cuts the power supply to the farmer’s television. Fade to black.

After interval, the animals must find a way to distract the farmer while a solution to the power problem can be found. So, they decide to put together their own show – which they call “Definitely Not Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show” – to amuse the farmer as if it was live TV. In fact, that comprises the entire second half of the production. One of the show’s high points occurs in that period when the animals determine they need a break and stage what is termed 1800 Hawaiin Holiday (spelling as it appears on screen).

Dan Potra’s set is a real eye catcher. Perched atop a slopping green hill is a small farmhouse surrounded by rolling hills and beautifully manicured trees. In the middle of the downslope of the large green hill is the farmer’s sitting room.

I love the simple creativity involved in the costuming by Libby McDonnell and the headwear from Rick McGill. The farm animals are dressed in a variety of coloured bibs and tails, with matching headwear, each featuring ears and eyes. So, it is fluffy white for the sheep, a yellow apron for dog Bitzer and pink for the pigs. The bull is the exception, insofar as he has on an all but full length brown number and horned headdress. The second act showcase features outfits in many different styles and colours.

Craig Wilkinson is the video director. He took Aardman’s stop motion animation as a foundation and then used digital animation to connect the action on stage with the television series.

Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show is a most entertaining and highly amusing adaptation of the successful Aardman franchise. With a running time of about one hour 40 minutes (including a 20-minute interval), there is plenty to put a smile on the faces of youngsters and those young at heart alike. In short, it is wonderful family show. Skilfully directed by Yaron Lifschitz, Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show is playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne until 18th April, before head to the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong from the 19th to the 23rd May, 2021.

Alex First

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