Seeing the work (10 shows in two days, mostly circus and physical theatre) there was a wide variety in quality and taste. Quality can often be difficult to assess but in terms of circus skills it is relatively easy to compare - the level of skill and impact, the ease of movement, the inventiveness (how far they have moved away from the standard lexicon or the standard equipment). But what is taste? For me, it is strongly related to the motive behind the work. Some use the easiest form of sensationalism. One group, Cirque Alfonse, padded out the time with an out-dated magic illusion and the busker's standard acts of bed of nails and the concrete smash. If you can attract in punters who have not seen certain skills, it's not hard to impress. It's mainly a feat of marketing and, as if to confirm the easy-buck ethic, in the middle of the show the whipped-up crowd became stupid enough to buy minuscule shots of alcohol for £1 in order to take part in a draw for a vaguely described 'prize', which turned out to be throwing a custard pie. The cheap nudity was cynically offered in the spirit of 'We're so free' and Burlesque irreverence. Maxing the income was clearly the prime priority.
Other groups, such as Cirque Le Roux and Cirk La Putyka, take their work more seriously mixing circus skills with theatre, with or without a clear narrative. They set up a set of relationships, using highly energetic physical expression, a hybrid mix, a bit like opera, and then go in to longer episodes whose sole purpose appears to be the display the accomplishment of skill. Occasionally these episodes serve the narrative well, a poetic metaphor for the intensity of feeling. At other times, it's just for the sake of the trick.
For other companies, such as Ockhams Razor and T1J, this 'showing off' is not necessary. Perhaps, because they are less insecure about proving their credibility or justifying their years of training, these, more artistic companies, are interested in exploring or expressing something and hold true to that purpose avoiding 'tricks for trick's sake'. Because they are curious they can keep producing very different shows over many years rather than being limited to re-packaging the same (if improved skills).
The history of the Edinburgh Fringe is littered with one-hit wonders. Years of hard developmental work is rewarded with a success that sometimes takes them by surprise. However, having got it how do they deliver on the higher expectations? If there is no curiosity, no interest in anything other than maintaining their profile they may face a limited shelf-life.
But, having been reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, I couldn’t help wondering what was it all for? There seems to be a displacement of huge amounts of personal energy, as if the huge task of blocking out the imminent impact of climate change and the breakdown of shared common interest was the cause of the frenetic-ness of activity, juggling and jesting while Rome burns, reinforcing the collective myopia.