In our interview series The Lowdown, we ask performers and directors how they’re feeling ahead of their London show openings. Here, we sit down with Cirque Berserk founder Martin ‘Zippo’ Burton, a legend of the circus scene who’s been performing for 49 years
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO CELEBRATE 10 YEARS OF CIRQUE BERSERK?
10 years, five West End runs, two record breaking Edinburgh Festival seasons. The show has grown and changed a lot and never gotten stale. Getting naked flames and real motorbike stunts approved by Westminster Health and Safety was our greatest achievement.
WHAT’S THE DNA OF A REALLY GOOD CIRCUS ACT?
In terms of Cirque Berserk a great circus act should involve real jeopardy, and the audience needs to know that. I always like to see audience members with their hands over their eyes, watching the show between their fingers. The louder the audience screams, the faster the motorbikes in the Globe of Death go. This year for the Riverside Studios we have increased the top speed from 60mph to 80mph! Only Cirque Berserk can do this safely.
ARE THERE TOO MANY ‘MAINSTREAM’ CIRCUS SHOWS IN LONDON?
I don’t think there is any real circus in the West End, unless its Cirque Berserk. Cabaret has always been sexualised, which is why my parents wouldn’t let me watch cabaret. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to go to the KitKat Club?
WHICH ACT ARE YOU MOST CHUFFED TO HAVE LANDED?
Paulo dos Santos flies through the air and leaps across the stage doing 10 handsprings in a row. Santos is a little person and in his 20s became intrigued with the Brazilian martial art form Capoeira. But no one would teach him. “They thought I wouldn’t be good because I’m small,” dos Santos said once, “Finally, I found a teacher and studied with him for a year and then won a big competition in Brazil. That proved to everyone that I could do it.” So landing him was a big coup.
WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR CIRCUS?
I have been producing and appearing in Circus shows for 49 years. People often ask me if the circus will survive. Of course it will, the one tradition in circuses is the ability to adapt to changing times. Cirque Berserk is a long way away from my first circus 49 years ago, but it is a circus looking towards the future. If you haven’t been to a circus since childhood, then it’s time to come to Cirque Berserk, a lot has changed.
Cirque Berserk runs until 11 March 2023 at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith
Read more issues of The Lowdown, including this interview with Moira Buffini about putting on a show about the late Queen that opened the same week as her death
Here’s West End theatre founder Nica Burns giving us The Lowdown on Soho Place, the first new West End theatre in 50 years
And actor Amy Trigg giving us The Lowdown on self-love, laughter and disabled representation