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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Flying Karamazov Brothers
Vaudeville Theatre   Summer 2011

This is a short (90 minutes, including long interval) evening of juggling and comedy, and will be exactly as entertaining as you are likely to find juggling and comedy, which may indeed be quite a bit. 

The performers are good at it and, as long as you don't expect anything more than what's on offer, give value for money.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are a product of the 'New Vaudeville,' the loose collection of novelty acts that arose in the 1970s, many of them beginning as street performers. They employed traditional circus and variety skills – juggling, acrobatics, magic, mime, etc. - but outside the traditional setting and with an ironic, self-referential humour; think of the difference between a magician like Paul Daniels and Penn & Teller.

The FKB (not flying, not named Karamazov and not brothers) were and are juggler-clowns who spice up the act with self-depreciating jokes, audience interaction and twists on the formula. After almost forty years, only one member of the original troupe remains – founder-director Paul Magid, joined here by Mark Ettinger, Roderick Kimball and Stephen Bent.

Together and separately they juggle things. They also do some Japanese-style drumming on cardboard boxes, dance a mock ballet, play various instruments, indulge in a comic sword fight, and tell jokes.

But mainly they juggle, throwing things up in the air and, for the most part, catching them again.

It has to be said that, judged strictly as jugglers, they're not especially impressive. I grant that any juggling is an achievement that is beyond me, but most conventional jugglers have more elaborate or seemingly more difficult routines. With one notable exception, the Karamazovs' routines are pretty basic, and a certain amount of dropping does go on.

The outstanding technical achievement comes when they indulge in what they call jazz juggling, the other three all tossing to Magid simultaneously, improvising variations for him and each other to keep up with. (In this episode there is some deliberate dropping, because picking up without breaking the rhythm is part of the achievement.) 

Elsewhere, a routine in which they juggle illuminated balls that somehow change colour in mid-air is lovely to look at, and there is the obligatory juggling of a bunch of very different objects – an egg, a cleaver, a stuffed fish and the like. 

But ultimately it is not the juggling itself, but the comedy – the patter and shtick that introduces and accompanies the tossing and catching – that carries the evening, and the Brothers have this down pat, so that prepared material sounds like ad libs and ad libs fit smoothly into the script. 

The Brothers look like fun guys having fun, in the way the best street performers do, and that spirit can be infectious.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Flying Karamazov Brothers - Vaudeville 2011