By Chenoah Eljan
Prehysterical is Head First Acrobats’ kids show at the Fringe, to offset their adult only offerings Crème de la Crème and GODZ. The show is expertly crafted with clever attention to detail and outstanding direction from Adam Opus. The audience is transported back to “Neanderthal times” as three hapless prehistoric humans (Chelsea Angell, Alex Caulfield, and Anthony Saltalamacchia) go on a long journey in search of food. They encounter a myriad of obstacles on the way, including a river, a hungry tiger, a cold night, and the usual rivalries that even sophisticated modern humans can relate to. These obstacles are all used as clever devices to incorporate acrobatics into the narrative. To cross the river full of electric eels the prehistoric humans use a swing, which allows Caulfield to show off his world-class gymnastic credentials with control and precision seldom seen up close and personal. When Caulfield and Saltalamacchia decide to set a trap for the tiger, Angell is caught in aerial straps and up into the air she goes, ostensibly trying to free herself. When they find food, Saltalamacchia juggles six fruit faster than your eyes can follow. The performers are all excellent, and their diverse skills gives Opus a wide variety of tricks to draw on.
The adults in the audience are beyond impressed with the skill of the performers and the ease and joy with which they effortlessly complete their tricks. But kids, kids don’t know how hard stuff is. The six-year-old sitting next to me says “Easy, I could do that” when Caulfield expertly executes a hands-free headstand and splits on a swinging trapeze. Regrettably, the skill of these performers is lost on their intended audience. The kids are not here to be impressed; they are here to be entertained. And for kids that means engaged. A choice was made for the performers not to speak (apart from gibberish) and instead to rely on an occasional voiceover. It would seem this was an error, as throughout the show kids can be heard asking “What are they doing now?” and “What’s happening”? One of the only times the audience is invited to engage is when the performers are looking for bananas hanging over their heads. The kids love this part, every single one of them is standing up and screaming “Look up!!! Above you! UP!” It is a taste of what the entire show could have been, if it had invited more audience engagement and really leaned into the preferences of its intended audience. A script for this show is needed and if that script is given to a narrator, rather than the performers, that narrator needs to be on the stage engaging with the audience. Before the show, and presumably during, Head First Acrobat’s own Callan Harris is out the front of The Vault selling donuts. His ability to capture attention and think on his feet makes him an obvious choice for an onstage narrator. Someone else can sell donuts.
For parents, this is one of the best shows for kids at the Fringe. It is genuinely entertaining for all ages and the skills of the acrobats are showcased well. Every minute has been carefully considered and the pace is swift but never feels rushed.
Images: Callan Harris