A circus-based exploration of the Wild West is not a unique concept – Atomic Saloon Show brought the same idea to the Fringe in 2019 – but Railed are a welcome new addition nonetheless. Hailing from Australia, the award-winning Head First Acrobats transport their rowdy crowd to the mythos of American history, albeit with more acrobatics and less clothes. After a shaky start, Railed wins you over with its fusion of humour and physicality that feels unique to the performers bringing it to life.
In the earliest stages of the show, something feels a little off about Railed. It struggles to mix its comedic content with its immediate appeal as an impressive circus experience. It feels more like an out-and-out comedy performance that stutters and starts – a card trick gets a great call back later in the show but, with just one audience member in the front row being engaged with, those sitting further back may find themselves twiddling their thumbs. When the man-horse with the rubber head and giant felt penis makes his entrance however, things pick up a gear (how could they not?). Railed goes from feeling like ‘just’ another circus show to something with its own distinctive identity, meshing laughter with heroics much more smoothly.
The show stands out for its numerous feats of strength and flexibility – some of them familiar, some of them given humorous twists that feel spot on for the acrobats’ cheeky personas. One acrobat in particular, scaling chairs stacked on top of each other, has a real talent for messing with the crowd and making them laugh (not to mention making them gasp when he sneezed halfway through one of his moves). Railed’s absurdist, lewd humour sits increasingly well alongside the tricks, and wins you over the longer that it goes on. It is technically superb too, with music and lighting hitting the sweet spot – rapidly changing lights to represent ricocheting gunfire works especially well, complementing the mixture of drama and laughter that Head First Acrobats are aiming for.
Railed manages to stand proud as an impressive, entertaining and firmly adults only circus show – in fact, the biggest laugh of the night comes when they reveal that they also have a kids show happening at the festival too. It is a funny and riveting addition to the Fringe’s collection of circus acts that has plenty yet to milk out of its entertaining premise.