All Hail the Union Jack!

I am at the ATM in Historic Properties in Halifax when all of a sudden I hear the sound of opera music blaring from out the side door, steps away from where I am standing. It sounds like there is a symphony playing on the streets so I curiously follow the music and happen upon two men in suits with red ties warming up in preparation for their Busking Show and an enormous crowd gathered around them. The Halifax International Buskers Festival touts the fact that they have six performance areas, but I had no idea this little crevice between the buildings of Historic Properties was one of them. These men are wearing bowler hats. I am immediately intrigued and wiggle my way into the audience and plop myself down on the ground. One hoists the other up, and the smaller of the two stands on the taller one’s shoulders, and together they run through their crowd. They rush for teacups and synchronized stirring is followed by one-armed handstands, with their legs in the splits, balancing the teacups on the small of their backs.
I could tell they were British, indeed, before they had opened their mouths, and indeed they are known far and wide as the English Gents. I had seen many of their feats performed before, by the Canadian Phantastyks, and although I stand by my initial assessment that the Phantastyks are incredibly talented and put on a fun, awing show; the English Gents have a degree of polish and seamlessness that give them a distinct edge. The English Gents make everything they do appear utterly graceful and quite sophisticated, which is aided of course, by their choice of music.
The two performers, a mixture of clowns and tramps– Chaplin-esque in their bowler hats, are named Pennington III and Rupert, and their strength, flexibility and skill is astounding. Pennington III held Rupert only by the hand as Rupert lay prostrate in the air. Pennington III balanced Rupert (doing a headstand) using just his shoulders. Rupert then did a handstand, balancing only on the palms of Pennington III’s hands.
All this was just the warm up. This is a show that you can’t simple read about; it must be seen to be believed. It looks so simple; the audience is tricked into a false sense of security, almost as though what they are watching is a cartoon. They even invited six year old Grace “the Intrepid” to come onstage, and she sat on Rupert’s shoulders, and then he sat on Pennington III’s shoulders, so that the first grader was hoisted high in the air to perform the ‘Old Showman’ trick “Hoopla!” in which a cute child puts out their arms and the audience goes wild.
And, just when you think that you’ve grasped the concept of the English Gents, and that you see the shtick of the bowler hats, teacups, umbrellas, and newspapers, these gentlemen do something very shocking indeed, as they “bare nearly all for Queen and country.” The English Gents have a perfectly solid show, along with their acrobatics being extraordinary and dazzling; the show that they present for the audience is hilarious, and vastly entertaining.
The final two tricks of the English Gents defy description and every law of physics. Firstly, Rupert does a one-arm handstand on top of Pennington III’s head, and then the duo performs the trick that has made them world-famous. They are the only two acrobats in the world who are able to do this trick. It is a wonder to watch, which is made even more extraordinary by the fact that while it looks challenging, it doesn’t look at all quite as strenuous and difficult as I’m sure it must be. Pennington III, while lying down, lifts up Rupert, who is lying prostrate, by one arm. Pennington III then rises, still holding Rupert by one arm, to a standing position. Incredible.
The English Gents was the best Buskers show I have seen in a long time. So, if you hear opera music emanating from the Halifax waterfront, be sure to head that way to catch the show I guarantee you will remember fondly for a very long time.
The Halifax International Buskers Festival runs until tomorrow at the Halifax Waterfront. Go enjoy the marvellous weather and take in a show. All shows are presented in a “pass the hat” fashion. You may find yourself, as I did, wandering back to the ATM, after seeing The English Gents show.

I also recommend checking out Bike Boy , whose show I caught a couple years ago. He is pretty incredible and very unique. I’ve also heard amazing things about Flame Oz. So, head downtown if you’re in Halifax, and support theatre in the streets!

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