The freaky, fantastical world of Nights at the Circus, originally a novel by Angela Carter, will be brought to life for the first time in the U.S. tonight at the UC Davis Wyatt Pavilion Theatre at 8 p.m. Performances will continue through Sunday.
Nights at the Circus is directed by UC Davis Master of Fine Arts Candidate Patricia Miller, adapted for the stage by Emma Rice & Tom Morris and originally premiered in London in 2006.
Using magical realism and a burlesque, music hall style in turn-of-the-century London, the story revolves around the life of Fevvers, a notorious winged woman in the circus, and the bitter newspaper reporter, Jack Walser, who tries to expose the truth that Fevver’s wings are fake.
Miller said that viewers can expect a dark blend of glamour and sleaze – a wild spectacle of oddities amidst a gritty, Victorian-era environment. Dancing tigers, psychic pigs and fanciful prostitutes are just a few of the denizens who populate the stage.
By showcasing these distinctive characters, the production incorporates themes of individuality, freedom and the vulnerability that those who are different face in a harsh, unforgiving world, Miller said.
It’s a humanist piece, Miller said. We have this tough, self-possessed character [Fevvers] who despite her strong, ballsy exterior is just as scared and insecure as everyone else – she’s vulnerable and longing to connect with people.
Miller said she was first exposed to the novel when she was 17, and was entranced by Fevvers, the strong-willed protagonist.
This bawdy charmer took her freakish wings in her stride, commanding life on her own terms accompanied by her wizened sidekick, Lizzie the Anarchist Whore, Miller said. I was attracted to the play by its rich language, theatrical ensemble storytelling and songs that are part vaudeville, part Brecht.
Alumnus Samuel Hardie, who plays Jack Walser, describes his character as hardbitten.
Jack Walser is a writer for the New York Times who travels to London to demystify this woman, Fevvers, who is an incredibly popular, infamous celebrity, Hardie said. He starts off as a man in a suit and ends up in his underwear.
He is looking for the truth in fact, while she [Fevvers] is looking for the truth in life, added Miller.
Alice Vasquez, who plays Fevvers, said that she had to learn to work the trapeze to play her part. She said that her favorite scene is when she sings the song Humiliation.
Fevvers just lets it all out, her anger and angst and everything she’s learned from her feminist upbringing, Vasquez said.
If he wasn’t playing his own role, Hardie said the character he would liked to have done instead is Mr. Sugar, a rich capitalist, soul collector, who represents temptation.
The original score by was written by Daryl Henline, an acclaimed singer and composer who has been involved in Bay Area theater projects for over 15 years. Recently he composed the score for Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Dance Theatre’s Lotta’s Opera and Trolley Dances.
Nights at the Circus is recommended for mature audiences, as it contains staged violence, sexual content and adult language. Preview tickets for tonight are $10 for non-students and $5 for students. Friday and Saturday presale tickets are $13 for non-students and $9 for students, and $14 for non-students, $10 for students at the door. The final performance will be Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at 754-2787 or at mondaviarts.org. For more information, visit theatredance.ucdavis.edu.
SONIA PARECADAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX