Pros: A concept that is highly technical and inventive. The show features gorgeous live music with a multi-talented, engaging cast.
Cons: There is something not quite right about the narrative pacing. Some of the acts don’t build the sense of anticipation that you expect from circus.
The Roundhouse is a breath-taking venue. Being the first to arrive in the cavernous auditorium is something quite special. On this occasion, the house lights are a dull red and with the industrial scaffolding that makes up the set of Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine (henceforth to be known at RUHM), the place looks like a circus tent from 2050.
Aside from the incredible set, the concept of RUHM is brilliant. A mixture of performers and riggers make up the cast of the show: classic circus acts such as trapeze, tightrope, silks and hoops are turned on their head. One man (Barnz Munn) helps to bring a bizarre, impressive new mobility to many of the acts by acting as a human weight. He’ll weigh down a hoop or trapeze, for example, and launch himself up the metal structure, sort of like a punk Spiderman. The show is charmingly rugged and unpolished in this way; you see the work that would normally be kept backstage.
The content and narrative don’t quite marry with the concept to make a masterpiece. The rough plot is the story of neighbours: relationships, fleeting, or otherwise, form the backdrop to the acts. The first half doesn’t establish this well enough, and the pacing feels wrong. In a circus act, traditional or not, you expect your breath to be taken away, and part of that is down to tension and timing. The performers are wonderful, but most of the acts don’t seem to reach the crescendo you might expect. I totally appreciate that the point of the show is to subvert expectation, but if you see a trapeze, you do expect to see someone swinging on that trapeze. I imagine that the set-up of the rigging may restrict what can be done.
There are moments that do provide this sense of awe, which are the moments where the concept is really justified. If these moments made up the entire show it would really be something special. Ellis Grover’s tight-rope and balancing acts are absolutely charming, but he’s underused in the first act. In the second, Grover is the star of the show. At one point, he sits on a chair that’s balanced on a chair that’s balanced on four bottles. It is, quite frankly, genius. What a guy.
The second half is pacier and takes more risks. There is a scene based on a house party where the recklessness of alcohol (and I mean that fondly) really works for the premise of the show. The set comes to life: there’s a spiral staircase made of wooden planks that tip when stepped on. Add a bottle of red wine, and the mesmerising Seren Corrigan, and you’ve got a hilarious, scary, brilliant piece of circus.
Overall, the cast are clearly exceptionally talented people. The idea that drives the show is also a very solid one. I need to mention that the show is worth seeing for the live music alone. The original music by the company is melancholic and eerily beautiful. Most of the cast can sing, which adds a lovely element to the show. RUHM just needs a little work to find more coherence. I am (clearly) no expert on the fine art of putting a circus show together, but the artform demands that the audience should feel their heart pound out of their chest, which this show doesn’t quite manage.
Conceived by: James Williams & Pirates of the Carabina
Directed by: James Williams
Booking Until: 15 April 2018
Box Office: 0300 6789 222
Booking Link: www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2018/circusfest- 2018/relentless-unstoppable- human-