The Phyzgig Festival is under way — in a big way

By Jeanné McCartin
It’s year four for the five-day Phyzgig Festival South, presented by Pontine Theatre — a whiz-bang event that will delight all ages.

Juggling, magic, slapstick, clowning, vaudevillian acts and other circus-style arts will fill the black-box stage at West End Studio Theatre. There’s even a Yoyo-man.

“In another life I would have been in a circus,” says Marguerite Mathews, Pontine’s founding co-artistic director. “I love being at a circus, hanging out with circus people. They’re just the greatest.”

And most entertaining, she adds.

Pontine’s Phyzgig is the “southern” version of the 14-year-old Phyzgig Festival in Portland, Maine, says Mathews. The area has a strong base of circus-skill artists because Tony Montanaro (1927-2002) one of the greatest mime artists of the 20th century, founded the Celebration Barn, a world-renowned theater/school of mime, and other performing skills in Paris, Maine, she explains.

“And so tons and tons of people were his students. …; Now they enjoy the opportunity to get together. It’s a reunion for them around Christmas,” — one the audience gets to take part in.

Many of these artists come from a background of busking, “making money on the street,” says Mathews. “They have this way of interacting with the audience that is skilled but casual, friendly and engaging to the audience. It’s a performance style that’s not seen very much anymore. And in a space like ours, an intimate space …; they involve the audience in what they’re doing. It’s great for the audience members.”

Michael Trautman (Physical Comedy Theatre) will perform for each show and serve as emcee.

The five-day event features three performers for each show. Artists are Randy Judkins, juggler, and Phil Smith, magician, Dec. 26; Sam Kilborn and Lenny Zarcone, juggling, acrobatics, clowning and more; Randy Judkins, juggler, returns with Martin Shell, clown, Dec. 29 and John Higby, the Yo-Yo Guy, and Dan Link, magician, will perform on Dec. 30.

Mathews says she has no one favorite. She’s impressed and drawn to all circus skill (and others that defy classification).

“I know how much time and effort it takes to get good at these skills. Sleight of hand, juggling. They make it appear as if you’re doing something that is impossible. I enjoy watching it.”

She adds much of Pontine’s original work, and that of guest artists hosted throughout the year, is targeted toward an adult audience.

“It’s not interesting to kids,” she says. “So, we love having a show that’s great for all ages.”


WHAT: PHYZGIG Festival South, three performers will be featured for each show

WHERE: West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth

WHEN: Dec. 26-30, 2 p.m.

COST: $15, tickets online at, or starting one half-hour before performance, cash and checks only.

CONTACT: 436-6660,


Sam Wills: Order of the gag

By Scott Kara


Sam Wills (The Boy With Tape on his Face) Photo / Supplied for Timeout.

For Kiwi comedian Sam Wills – aka The Boy With Tape On His Face – getting invited to perform at this year’s Royal Variety Pe Sam Wills (The Boy With Tape on his Face) Photo / Supplied for Timeout.rformance concert is a sign he’s finally broken through in Britain after moving there in 2008.

“Yeah, it’s definitely growing,” says Wills from London, whose madcap mime cum stand up act has been one of the standout shows at the New Zealand Comedy Festival in recent years.

“Last year I heard a rumour I was getting shortlisted for the performance but I didn’t quite make it. And so this year it was quite nice to get the invite, and essentially I’ve been given the nod of approval for my act.”

The annual concert, which this year was attended by Princess Anne, screens in New Zealand on Christmas Day at 7.25pm on TV One.

He wasn’t the only Christchurch native on the bill with songbird Hayley Westenra also performing.

“It was really nice to say hello to her and it was quite fun to say, ‘Hi, I’m from Christchurch too’,” he says. “She was really good, we had a little chat and talked about Christmas and barbecues.”

As well as doing shows he is currently talking to the BBC about possible TV show ideas, he will perform a new Boy With Tape On His Face show at next year’s comedy festival, and his long term dream is to do a West End-style show with “a big set, a big band, and create a little world and really build the place where The Boy With Tape On His face lives”.

But first, he had to perform for royalty …

So how did the Royal Variety Performance go then?

It was amazing. It was probably one of the most terrifying gigs I’ve ever done because there is so much history behind it as a show. It was pretty spectacular. I had to meticulously go through every little bit that I was doing so they could make sure it was all going to be fine.

What did you say – or not say – to Princess Anne when you met her?

I decided to meet her with tape on my face because we had to do the curtain call at the end of the show, and I had to do that in character, and then straight away there was the line up to meet her afterwards. And I thought realistically we’re not going to have a massive discussion so I thought it would make for a far more interesting photo with me shaking hands with her, with tape on, and not talking at all. What was really interesting was she asked me the questions any normal punter would ask me: does it hurt when the tape comes off?

Who did you meet back stage?

I got to share a dressing room with [American magicians and comedians] Penn and Teller, which was really fun because I’ve looked up to them for years. And Nicole Scherzinger, she was the act on before me. Then there were Il Divo, they were a really lovely bunch of singer guys.