Edinburgh for many years was Archaos’s second home, pitching the party on the less fashionable side of the City at Leith Links. Leith served as the stage for many of Scottish history’s significant events. With splendid irony, the circus village was pitched on the remains of the battlefield of Scottish insurgency.
It was the perfect place – the company breathed life in to this downtrodden ghetto and created their own citadel. On the edge of the encampment stood the Port O’Leith. It was an old pub that needed a scrub, habituated by the underbelly of the city. The streets outside were adorned by ladies of the night.
Falling into the bar after a show, an unwitting imbiber would observe the company in full flow. They created an intoxicating, bustling bedlam. Later, Leith was given a huge amount of cash to help regenerate. Perhaps it would have been wiser if the procurement department had assigned the money to Pierrot; he would have made it matchless parish.
Pierrot had a knack for identifying interesting talent. A French Vogue journalist did not file his copy; instead, he joined the show. Antonia, a receptionist at the Groucho Club, ran away with the circus after one of my press briefings. There are too many examples to mention all. Pierrot allowed them all to stay until the made a mistake or their ego became bad for the company morale.
Misfits and wastrels found meaning in the show and everyone had an important creative part to play, everyone found themselves suddenly aquiring a purpose. But, as Pierrot put it: “The big difference is that traditional circus is without life, spirit and energy. And with our show, the public becomes attached to the characters who are performing – they fall in love with them.”
Pierrot knew how to be a slightly scary father. They company worked hard; young things (and old) played their part in the machinations of the production but, after hours, ran a hedonistic riot – sometimes creatively, sometimes not. On one occasion they staged a big after-show party, with Mano Negra playing an impromptu gig. In the early hours, some small fireworks were let off in the big top which was thought great fun. A few minutes later Pierrot appeared in his dressing gown and shouted: “Arrete!” And that was that.
He let his crew/family play, he encouraged creative anarchy – but, like a good parent, put his foot down when we overstepped the mark. There was the ethical problem – the attraction of circus is a voyeuristic thrill, which comes from the real possibility of injury or worse. But Bidon’s children clearly had an addiction to danger, which verged on the psychotic. Maybe Freud understood it when he said: “Where danger is, there is salvation!”
In fact the shambolic nature of their performance was partly an illusion. There was a split second method in their madness. Everything was precisely choreographed.