Pros: Great to be close enough to see the performers’ faces, and the flashes of personality that came through even as they performed the most fiendish tricks.
Cons: Poor visibility of the downstage area.
Circus shows are a bit like juke box musicals. Each involves a collection of set pieces, or songs, and their success hinges in part on the quality of those set pieces, but perhaps even more on the narrative that links them. Circa’s new show, Closer, succeeds on both counts.
Five performers took to a stage furnished only with five very angular chairs. Playful and boisterous, they interacted with each other in a way that was tactile but not sexual. Their flipping and tumbling across the small space expressed a spontaneity that should not logically co-exist with such precision.
The first set piece was a free rope sequence by Lauren Herley. Even to a lay person it was clearly highly accomplished, but my guest – a professional juggler who has seen tons of circus – said it was clear from the opening seconds of Herley’s act that we were in very good hands. Other solo sections included Jarred Dewey miming along to ‘Champagne Supernova’ whilst hanging upside-down from a trapeze, and Daniel O’Brien hand balancing on platforms. All of them were jaw-dropping demonstrations of strength and dexterity, but were really brought to life by touches of personality and wit.
Kimberley O’Brien’s aerial loop display was set to a gorgeous cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s haunting song ‘The Killing Moon’. There was a point where she somehow made a cradle using the loops and lay back in it, like the man in the moon; the lighting cast her shadow onto the back wall, and it made a fleeting but very charming image.
Lisa Goldsworthy’s hula hoop performance started out low-key, but built and built. While she spun about 10 hoops around her waist, the others threw more and more hoops over her until she must have been spinning at least 20. It’s quite some party trick, but what really made it wonderful was the grin on Goldsworthy’s face that said, “isn’t this completely incredible, and yet utterly absurd?”
In between the solo set pieces there were ensemble pieces where the title of the show was entirely apt. The performers balanced on each other’s shoulders and heads, creating living sculptures of multiple bodies; they moved as one or waited to catch each other on the dismount. When Goldsworthy ‘suspended’ herself across two chairs, each of the other performers lay down on top of her. By the time cheeky little Kimberley stretched out at the top of the pile, they looked like a litter of pups, all jumbled together. It suggested a fraternal sort of closeness, innocent and trusting. Appropriately then, the finale was a case study in teamwork, as those angular chairs were built into a tower, held together by the performers and then spectacularly disassembled.
This is a production with very few shortcomings, but the karaoke section did feel out of place. Everything before and after it was performed in eloquent silence, so the rendition of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ did slightly break the spell (as did endless comings and goings in the audience – perhaps different rules apply in the big top.) The shallowness of the stage was occasionally a problem, and we had to lean forward several times to see action that took place on the ground at the front of the stage.
There is so much skill and dedication in evidence here that one could hardly blame the company if they presented their acts with solemnity and dramatic tension. But the charm of this show lies in its gentle humour and refusal to take itself half as seriously as it has every right to do.
Director: Yaron Lifschitz
Producer: Udderbelly Productions
Booking Until: 12 June 2016
Box Office: 0844 545 8282
Booking Link: http://www.udderbelly.co.uk/whats-on/closer#select-a-performance-jump