By Nick Pilgrim

This review may contain spoilers. 

Known for their brilliant stop-motion clay modelling and computer animation, Aardman Animations are the creators of award-winning music videos, classic cartoons and full-length motion pictures including:

  • Sledgehammer (1986);
  • A Grand Day Out (1989);
  • Creature Comforts (1991);
  • The Wrong Trousers (1993);
  • A Close Shave (1995);
  • Chicken Run (2000);
  • The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005);
  • Flushed Away (2006);
  • A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008);
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012); and,
  • Early Man (2018)

Drawing on a long history of British humour for inspiration, the studio’s strongest appeal is an ability to thrill and entertain children of all ages, as well as the young at heart. Like its close American cousin, Pixar, that their productions can be appreciated and enjoyed at many different levels, is a continuing key to the Aardman’s global success. It should be noted that the company recently branched-out into a successful line of books, toys and video games as well.

First starring in A Close Shave, Shaun The Sheep earned his own spin-off series of films and shorts and has never looked back. Now in a sixth season for Netflix, the inventive barnyard animal and his merry band of cohorts, get themselves into all sorts of mischief in the fictional farming community of Mossy Bottom.

Joining forces with Circa, Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show is a brand-new live action spectacular currently touring nation-wide.

Based in Brisbane, the troupe has earned a well-deserved reputation for their acrobatics, aerial ballet, balance, dance, juggling, mime, movement, strength, and tumbling. By expanding on Aardman’s highly-specific house style, this delightful collaboration between the two entities fuses contemporary world-class circus tricks and enchanting characterisation, together to a new and exciting level.

The resulting production’s accessible plot revolves around Shaun and his friends’ attempts to keep their farm’s owner entertained. After cutting access to his cable television by mistake, the dozen-strong flock improvise with any props they can get their paws on, to think up a live-streamed replacement of their own.

Comprising two forty-minute acts, Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show, features more than twelve different inventive and jam-packed routines. A gigantic backing video screen links each piece, as well as filling in any gaps for viewers unfamiliar with any of the characters and the original series.

Of the many highlights, special mention must be made to ‘A Star Is Shorn’ and ‘Paper Plane’. The first is a saucy take on Burlesque, while the second reinvents and blends the magical relationship between computer animation and live action in real-time.

Theatre People sat down with Circa’s artistic director, Benjamin Knapton, prior to the Melbourne season. Click below for the link to their in-depth article.

Benjamin Knapton Talks Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show.

In support of the performers’ considerable skills, is a six-strong creative team. Directed with humorous flair by Yaron Lifschitz, his vision keeps the entertainment moving and always on track. On the night I attended as evidenced by viewers’ entrancement and engagement with what they were watching, there was never a dull moment. Several key moments of actors interacting with the audience reinforced this shared connection.

Dan Potra’s scenic design could have been created by Wallace and Gromit themselves.  Bright and tactile, the multi-level set was the perfect playground for the performers, with concealed elements rolling in or popping open and shut throughout the show’s 80-minute running time.

Libby McDonnell’s smart and funny costume design give each performer a sense of character identification, as well as allowing viewers to see their full range of facial and body expression at the same time.

Intelligent composition and sound design by Jethro Woodward added musical and emotional depth to each routine.  Shaun The Sheep’s theme song was used as a starting point, reconfigured and reimagined at various points throughout.

Lighting by Jason Organ added necessary comedy and drama where needed, especially during the two bull-fighting sequences. As detailed earlier thanks to the use of a mobile jumbotron, Craig Wilkinson (of Optikal Bloc) tied the overall proceedings together with excellent video direction.

Occasions such as this makes my job as a reviewer both a privilege and a pleasure. The ideal school holiday entertainment suitable for everyone young and old, Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show plays for a strictly-limited run at the Regent Theatre in Collins Street.