Review: The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Vaudeville

“They’re not Russian, they don’t fly and they’re not brothers”

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are four entertainers, dressed in kilts, who have moved into the Vaudeville Theatre for the summer with their cabaret show of juggling, comedy, dancing, comedy dancing and music. The troupe has impressively been going since 1973, and still has one of those original two members performing now – Paul Magid (also writer and director), developing a number of shows and expanding their numbers to enable shows to run simultaneously in different cities. Not usually a fan of juggling-based shows, I have to say my mind was completely opened to new possibilities by Gandini Juggling’s Smashed! last year which demonstrated how interesting and indeed beautiful it could be.

There are moments of thrilling juggling which are breathtaking in their scope, as the four men play with the sounds and rhythms that they create, and weave in and out of each other, exchanging batons at a whirling rate and never pausing for breath during the routines. The best of these comes towards the end with what they call jazz juggling, a free improvisational segment which sees them cutting loose and challenging each other with a more playful air of tricks and flicks that is highly engaging and fun: it was so good, it almost overshadowed the much-trailed juggle of 9 Objects of Terror that followed it at the end of the show.

There’s an awful lot besides the juggling in the show too, despite the relatively short running time, as the guys move into variety with mixed success: a ballet routine is most amusing as is the moment when they play as an ensemble using each other’s hands. But the patter that fills the gaps doesn’t really work, the shoe-horning in of topical references is too forced and simply unnecessary, they are funnier and connect more with the audience when they stick to the culture-clash jokes and encourage their participation by trying to find three objects to try and defeat their juggling champ.

And it has to be said, though the quality of the performances were generally good, the second half was marked with a number of errors as three of the juggling routines featured dropping more than once. Matters were exacerbated by it being painfully obvious in two of them: the first one in the dark with illuminated balls leaving nowhere to hide as they tumbled to the floor and the finale, involving a member of the audience standing in the midst of flaming torches being tossed around, was genuinely nail-biting as the element of danger was ramped up but again, things fell to the ground.

The warm humour that is displayed by the four men throughout the show means that the drops are by no means disastrous, but ultimately in a show that prides itself in its world-class talent, it was a little disappointing to see mistakes creeping in. And with the level of entertainment on the non-tossing side of things not really matching up to the virtuoso juggling, it was something of a mixed evening for me: if you’re willing to throw yourself into the spirit of things with the zany Karamazov Brothers though, there’s much relaxed entertainment on offer here, perfect for the family.

Running time: 100 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 10th September
Note: if you’re shy, avoid the front row!