Category Archives: Circus & physical theatre



(reviewed at the Cambridge Junction on 7 July)

Did you ever, a long long time ago, write your name in a book, followed by the house name, the street, the town, the county, the country and then follow that with The World and The Universe? That seems to be the starting point for The Human Zoo Theatre Company’s Giant which uses an intriguing mixture of white-face mime, music, speech an puppetry of many kins to tell its story.

We more or less begin with a conventional-looking dolls’ house. Boy meets girl, they marry, have a son an a daughter (all very nuclear family so far) grow older, watch another generation grow, decay and die. An everyday history for ordinary people but, just as in a television soap opera, no family isn’t really one homogenised whole.

By now the young bride, who may once have had her own hopes for a starry future, is a pain-ridden matriach – but she can still dream, even as she dies. Her son holds down an office job which is rapidly becoming more than he can cope with. He wants his nephew to join him, putting aside the young man’s own desire to become an architect.

it’s often said that older people live out their frustrated ambitions through the youngest generation. Giant bears this out with great skill as well as considerable sympathy – we all have to do the best under the circumstances, whatever these may be, is the underlying message. The Human Zoo Theatre Company open the cage door to let us all mingle.

Giant is one of the productions in this year’s Hotbed Festival, celebrating new performance writing. Before it artist Chris Dobrowolski took us to Antarctica – where this conceptual artist (to assign what may be a misleading label) was attached to the British scientific expedition. It uses his own and documentary film footage as toy animals are introduced to disdainful real ones.

it’s all engaging enough, though this sort of staged autobiography tends to be a fixture at fringe theatre festivals right across the country. I may be a trifle jaded but it’s all too often a case of “see one, you’ve seen them all”. Dobrowolski is at any rate prepared to laugh at himself, which must count as a bonus.

The Hotbed Theatre Festival in association with Menagerie Theatre Company continues until 10 July at the Cambridge Junction. Giant also travels to this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

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White Nights

(reviewed at the Adnams Spiegeltent, Chapelfields, Norwich on 21 May)

White Nights is described as a circus cabaret by Race Horse Company which is presenting it. It’s an apt description for the ambiance suggests that of a nightclub with a glittering songstress presenter (Sophia Urista) inviting the audience to sing and clap along in the interludes between the actual circus acts.

Because the seating for that audience is on a non-raked floor and the stage itself is only slightly elevated, a lot of the acts which involve floor work are invisible to all but the front rows. This applies particularly to Iona Kewney whose wild acrobatics at times suggest some sort of ritual sacrificial dance. A gravity-defying Chinese pole routine is the opening number an sets the marker for what follows.

The three men in the troupe – Petri Tuominen, Rauli Kosonen and Kalle Lehto – have very different styles and skills. Some of the routines, notably those on the teeterboard combine comedy with precision skills – you have to be able to do something to near-perfection if you’re going to send it up. A nude man balancing a globe-like ball slips on a shirt and loose trousers to suggest a Pierrot fascinated by the dark side of the moon.

White Nights is part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival continues until 29 May.

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2016

Sans Objet

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich on 17 May)

To say that Aurélien Bory’s Sans Objet is a mesmerising as well as technically brilliant piece of theatre scarcely does it justice. Purposeless it is most certainly is not. As the stage slowly lightens we are confronted by an enormous mass a black plastic which turns and rises as though the earth’s landmass was breaking out of the seas.

This reveals our two, neatly business-suited performers Olivier Alena and Olivier Boyer, who unveil the most extraordinary robot with a lethally flexible arm. It is as though Kafka and Orwell had commissioned a Duchamp creation. Partly it can seem an hommage to Audrey (of Little Shop of Horrors fame), at first almost playful, then savagely devouring. Tristan Baudoin is the programmer and operator, fully deserving the audience’s applause at the curtain calls.

Before the stage is once more enveloped in the black sheeting, Alenda and Boyer dance and play, perform acrobatics and indulge in a half-fun, half-danger sequence of movements with the creation’s robotic arm. The sheeting then becomes the background for a dazzling light display until a door opens in it to reveal the two men with black heads. Have they been annealed in the depths of the robot? Or is it that they have recovered humanity once more? Make up your own mind.

Sans Objet is part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016.

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Evolution (Cirque de Glace)

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 20 January)

Three words sum up Evolution – skill, ice and fire. This latest touring production from the Russian ice stars (these include performers from Estonia and Ukraine) is a far more coherent piece of work than its predecessor as it traces the progress of our universe from its beginnings in molten lava to the havoc which unfettered industrialisation generates.

Evolution‘s message therefore is an ecological one, albeit one presented with a degree of subtlety. The visual aspects – from the heaving black mass twisted into a cone central stage with which we begin, to the deforestation and relentless corporate grind as business-suited skaters rush endlessly to the dictates of their mobile phones – are excellent with costumes and settings (John Spence) complementing Chris Wilkey’s special effects.

There are a lot of these, many involving fire. Phil Water’s script keeps us in the picture as the 17 scenes succeed each other with Steve Millington and Stu Shaw’s score underlying (sometimes with a relentless brutality reminiscent of Le sacré du printemps) and action and accompanying the skaters and acrobats.

Julian Deplidge is the creative director (no choreographer as such is credited in the programme). Ekaterina Belokopytova is the principal acrobat, playing Gaia – earth mother and goddess – whose delicate balance on the globe is so threatened by man’s ruthlessness. If primates lumber amid nature’s richness, the delicate winged trio of insects which precedes their arrival offer an ethereal prologue.

The invention of the wheel, symbolised by Svetlana Golubeva, and the discovery of the many properties of fire, for both good and evil, are other moments to savour. The skaters perform with dash and style as well as skill, with some extremely good lifts displaying the performers’ perfect timing. Yes, it’s blatantly spectacular almost to a point where its message becomes submerged but it is good theatre which integrates acrobatics and skate dancing to fine effect.

Evolution (Cirque de Glace) plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 January with matinée performances on 21 and 23 January.

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2016