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Review: Sophie's Surprise 29th (Underbelly Boulevard)

Review by Rosie Holmes




Sophie is turning 29 and her friends are throwing her a surprise party, and we’re all invited to join. Sophie is actually an unsuspecting member of the audience, and her party promises circus, comedy, chaos, and plenty of 90s nostalgia. Having turned 29 myself just a week ago, I was excited to go and join the party and see just what her friends had in store in Sophie’s Surprise 29th.


An audience member is chosen to be ‘Sophie’ for the night, and is brought on stage to be attend their very own surprise party. For the next 90 minutes her friends entertain her with stunning acrobatics, aerial hoop routines, roller skating, some erotic Twilight fan fiction (yes you read that right) and plenty of laughs. Really, the show starts before the lights even go down. As the audience take their seats, guests are met by the cast, dressed as 90s stereotypes, who begin to cause chaos immediately, building a bubbling sense of excitement and fun that continues throughout the show.

While the show is full of silliness, the acts themselves are exceptionally talented, with many of them having previously performed with esteemed troupes such as Cirque du Soleil. Katharine Arnold is the first to show off her skills, originally appearing as a stereotypical ’nerd’ character in a comical aerial rope routine. This not only shows off her acrobatic skills, but her characterisation and ability to act as later in a tongue and cheek nod towards the movie Grease, Arnold transforms in a classic makeover moment from ‘ugly ducking’ to stunning aerialist who wins the boy.


Double act Isis Clegg-Vinell and Nathan Redwood Price show off their skills in a roller-skating act. My favourite type of circus act is when you find yourself holding your breath from the thrill and I experienced exactly that in a performance made all the more exhilarating by the intimacy of the space. I also couldn’t mention Price’s appearance without talking about his fabulous Burberry-esque tracksuit, a nod towards the 90s ‘chav’ stereotype. Alongside him, Clegg-Vinell is equally as talented, showing off her versatility as a performer as she both skates and performs as part of an aerial trio with Price and Cornelius Atkinson, who in our line-up of caricatures plays the ‘goth’. Again, he is mesmerising as a performer, showing superhuman strength as he hangs in the air for an extraordinarily long time.

Dru Cripps is the clown in this circus, but certainly not the type of clown that would be welcome at a children’s party. In his funniest segment he appears naked with only a small music box to cover his modesty. Showing his talent for audience interaction and improvisation, he includes the audience throughout, adding to the immersive and chaotic atmosphere of the show. Lastly, Josie Jones plays the girly girl, her outfit is reminiscent of a Bratz doll I once had, but her stunts are utterly captivating. She dances with, and eats, fire, and swings from the ceiling by her ponytail.


The birthday party theme doesn’t necessarily add much in terms of a gripping narrative arc, but it does add a sense of purpose to the show and definitely lots of fun. Cleverly, on the small stage they use the idea of a party to fill the gaps between performances as they swap apparatus. These interludes are more than just filler though, entertaining and ensuring momentum is maintained. While waiting for the next act, we played pass the parcel, took part in some karaoke and played guess the tune.

This show is unlike anything I have ever seen before –  I certainly have never seen a roller-skater down a WKD on stage! The party atmosphere is maintained by the high energy cast, ending in a singalong that the whole audience are happy to participate in. But the chaotic fun is second to the true specialness of the show, the sheer talent and strength of its company. This is a wonderful night out for anybody, although don’t sit in the front row if you’re scared of a little audience participation… or naked clowns!


Sophie’s Surprise 29th plays at the Underbelly Boulevard until 28th June, tickets and further information can be found here - Sophie’s Surprise 29th | Underbelly Boulevard


Photos by Craig Sugden



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