Ed Gosling

Ed entered the world of circus and cabaret by accident at the age of 19 and made it his home. After performing across the UK and Europe for several years he had a brief stint as a fiction editor before setting up Chivaree Circus which he now runs and performs with. He lives in a warehouse in east London filled floor to ceiling with performers and circus toys: this makes him very happy.

Review: Traces, Peacock Theatre

Like The 7 Fingers’ Sequence 8, that played in the same theatre back in September last year, Traces is an ensemble piece that explores the human aspect of circus by mixing big standout moments with lots of group work and unexpected choreography. The 7 Fingers have a very distinct style that constantly breaks the fourth wall with little turns and feints, and while there is a tightness of the movements that show impeccable training, there is a silliness that means performers don’t have to take any of it too seriously.

Having all of the performers on stage throughout means there is huge potential for interaction of movements between them, but some of my favourite moments are the solo pieces. It’s good to see a show where every so often one of the performers really lays down some circus truth.

Enmeng Song and his diabolo is the best I have ever seen live. Mixing flips with breakneck spins and technical manoeuvres, he performs an act that really is as “electrifying” as the promo posters have promised. There are those who may look down on more niche aspects of juggling disciplines, such as the diabolo but Song proves that this can be truly exciting when pushed to its limits. While he falters a little at the end of the act while manipulating 3 diabolos at once, the audience cheers him all the harder for attempting it after the virtuosity of what has gone before.

Elsewhere, Kevin Beverley pulls off a dance trapeze act that manages to feel fresh and interesting, largely due to choreography that feels different to what is usually on offer in a circus show. Yann Leblanc nails a cyr wheel act, whose personality comes from the fact that rather than go for something floaty and ethereal (which is done to death in the circus world), he instead opts for performing to Dropkick Murphy’s I’m Shipping Up To Boston, all the while looking like a young Wolverine. It is absolutely fantastic and a brave yet supreme choice.

One of the opening acts, a hand to hand routine by Harley Mcleish and Anne-Marie Godin has some beautifully executed flips to inverted catches. Gypsy Snider (the choreographer) has again done beautiful work here, so much of the movements feels really unexpected. It’s not just the solo pieces, the group work feels consistently high level, and at each summersault, flip, throw and catch you are never sure who is going to execute the next impressive feat.

One criticism of this show would be the obvious gender imbalance. It is not just that there are 6 guys but only 1 girl but it is the role she plays. While her hand-to-hand routine is an amiable enough affair, it features a vague narrative of a love relationship going back and forth. This is not only a shocking cliché from an otherwise inventive company, it also positions her as defined by a romantic connection to a male performer.

Elsewhere, she draws a heart on one of the performers; when they are playing with skateboards hers is the only one that has a heart on it and when they play with a basketball she puts it under her shirt to mimic pregnancy. I can’t help but question why it is so necessary to call out her status as a women, which is all the more heightened by her isolation as the only female performer.

It is a strange choice in Sequence 8 to have the two girls change into dresses at one point in the show, Traces does exactly the same thing by having Godin do a solo aerial strap act while wearing a floaty red dress (all the other cast where suit trousers and shirts / t-shirts). In a second huge cliché, the lone women in the floaty red dress (as seen in Bianco and Cirkopolis et al), but added up with the other signifiers it seems that the gender politics here need to be called out and questioned. I cannot see any justification for them.

Having said that, this show is of a fantastically high standard and wins on so many different levels. For the next month the Peacock theatre steals it from the South Bank – this is where you will see the most interesting circus in London. The 7 Fingers, are disarming in their approach, yet wonderfully effective.

The show runs runs till 12th July.

Traces. By The 7 Fingers. Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HT. 10 June 2015. http://www.sadlerswells.com

Review: A Simple Space, Udderbelly

A Simple Space sees a striped down minimalist set in which Gravity And Other Myths’ seven acrobats explore the potential of the human body in a fun, competitive – and chiefly playful and down to earth way. This is a circus that prizes style over substance even if the plain coloured t-shirts and beige trousers do make it feel aesthetically somewhat like watching a sustained hour long gap advert from the nineties.

Circus is about pushing yourself to the limit, and reaching a goal more often than not creates several more goals. It is a never ending journey where you cannot really be satisfied where you are, a little like Freud’s theory of desire, although (in the case of juggling) with more, well, balls.

Most shows see a cast working together with the audience led to believe that they support each other wholeheartedly and are all part of one big happy family. A Simple Space has a very different approach and sees the cast trying to relentlessly outdo each other in feats of impressiveness. At one point this manifests itself in a backflipping competition, where individuals are knocked out if they fail to land the trick perfectly; the final round sees the last two performers completing around twenty backflips in a row. At another they hold handstands while the audience throws different coloured ball pit balls at them to make it harder.

This spirit of pushing themselves feels constant and for a number of the big set pieces the cast act as spotters for each other. The spirit to be the best possible is relentless: when a trick is missed, it is not glossed over but performed again until success ensues. While the choreography is tight and the positions are clearly well rehearsed, this feels like a show that is taking risks and reminds us that high level circus is always comes with risks. The toll of achieving this level of physical control is also vividly apparent: the troupe’s t-shirts look clearly less fresh towards the end and they are left breathing heavily after some of the scenes.

It is hard to make a joke out of acrobatics, but there are is some good comedy here. A strip-skipping competition elicits loud rounds of laughter, as do many other moments of the show. By taking out narrative, dialogue or the other common theatrical devices, we are left with what feels like a very innocent platform to try new things. The bright colours of various props, and the reference to several toys make it feel like a childhood nursery at times, if instead of bumbling around haplessly, knocking things over and shitting on themselves children were able to artistically redefine what it is to be human.

The music is performed live on-stage by Elliot Zoerner, who mixes samples with percussion. This perfect marriage of sounds with the action allows him to react to the performance by adding in an extra few bars if some element needs repeating, or building in a crescendo to add emphasis. One section sees him at the forefront of the show for an extended body percussion section that really is the musical equivalent of circus. Zoerner’s contributions are highlight of the show and his work helps give the otherwise disparate elements a cohesiveness that draws it all together.

A Simple Space is an incredibly fun show. There is evidence everywhere that it has been skilfully put together, with enough big moments to leave you feeling uplifted.

A Simple Space. Performed by Gravity And Other Myths. Udderbelly, London SE1 8XX. Until 24 May. From £18.50+booking fee. http://www.udderbelly.co.uk.

A Simple Space is the first of the three circus shows at Udderbelly this year. Find out about them and how to save money on tickets here.

Mad about circus? There’s plenty more around this month.

Review: Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis, Sadler’s Wells

CirqueEloize_Cirkopolis_Banquine

Canadian troupe Cirque Eloize has touched down in London for ten days ahead of a UK tour. One of the forerunners of Cirque Nouveau, they’ve been blending high level circus with narrative and storytelling since 1993. The last show I saw at the Peacock theatre was last September’s Sequence 8 by Les 7 Doigts De La Mains. For Sadler’s Wells to programme Cirque Eloize provides further proof that they are establishing themselves as one of the premiere venues in the capital for this kind of world class modern circus.

There are quite a few similarities between the two shows. Both feature a strong ensemble cast of multidisciplinary performers taking turns for solo slots and big choreographed set pieces. They even share a number of tableaux that are almost interchangeable. A moment where one performer walks across the others around and up onto a Chinese Pole is a striking case of déjà vu.

While Sequence 8 went for non-linear minimalism, Cirkopolis tells of a dark grey world filled with rules and systems that gives way to colour; balloons, a red rose and other fairly clichéd objects let us know that we are progressing to greater humanity. The narrative is developed primarily through projections that take you into and through a fantastical future city.

Let me be clear: this is a show of extraordinary talent and versatile performers and, at its best, it exhibits these skills at a phenomenally high level. The straps piece by Jérôme Sordillon is a standout moment in the show and one of the points I felt a real connection as a performer myself. The German wheel by Frédéric Lemieux-Cormier is also a pure moment of a performer owning their apparatus. The Cyr wheel is used to create a eye-opening image with performer Léa Toran Jenner spinning inside it wearing a red dress that floats around her.

However, the overall show somehow lacks a raw honesty that would elevate it to something sublime. While I’m sure all of the cast are pushing themselves, it all looks too easy – at no point do you get that heart in your throat, the “will they make it, will they land safely?” feeling. In fact, you’re left very sure they will and everything feels somehow too easy.

While Cirkopolis has the occasional solo spots, the vast majority of the routines are based around group work. This can work well at times. An army of ten people juggling clubs in complex positions is a wonderful spectacle in its sheer totalitarianism. At other times you wish they would have given more time for individuals to explore and develop their particular speciality.

There are also some moments that frankly don’t hit the mark: a point on the double trapeze never gets beyond the rudimentary. It is also rather uncertain why the three female performers end up in a kind of futuristic swimming costume at the end of the show when all the men remain in shirts and trousers. Just why?

While the show draws influence from films like Metropolis or Brazil, Cirkopolis is a simple homage to their overarching message without any additional complexity or comment. The vibe is often dark but by no means edgy or challenging in the way shows like Limbo, Bianco or La Soiree have managed recently. This is ultimately Canadian circus, that while it downplays it to a certain extent, still likes its jazz hands – and is a little too politically correct in its delivery. There is clearly an amazing display of skill here and so much is working, but it fails to deliver enough palpable heart-wrenching moments it should.

Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis continues at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre until 28 February. More information can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Review: The Artful Badger’s Wild Worlds: Dark Sides, Vault Festival

Aedin Walsh at The Artful Badger's Wild Worlds: Dark Sides. Image: Jasmin Bell
Aedin Walsh at The Artful Badger’s Wild Worlds: Dark Sides. Image: Jasmin Bell

Ever seen a performer peel off parts of a vegetable penis, before writhing around in a giant net in the midst of an audience in a dark tunnel under a mainline station in London late on a Sunday night? Running at the Vault Festival until Valentine’s Day, Wild Worlds: Dark Sides is a slice of immersive theatre by interdisciplinary live arts company The Artful Badger. Don’t step into this too lightly: it is undoubtably a surreal journey, a fierce exhibition of feral values and one hell of a weird show.

Renowned for their legendary woodland stage at Secret Garden Party, the collective also hold club nights that have successfully graduated from Passing Clouds in East London to the larger underground Vaults beneath Waterloo. Their dancers in animal costumes keep the audience moving late into the night, and their workshops explore the power of the anonymity beneath a mask and freeing yourself from inhibitions. But while all of their work seeks to explore the animal in man and encourages the crowd to shed their human skins and embrace their wilder side, this show (as the name suggests) is a much darker representation than what has gone before.

There is a real passion for experimentation that is evident from the start. The opening choreography is violent and aggressive. Fireworks exploding are by no means cause for celebration and the centre of the show invites the audience in self-aware narration to inspect a dead bird: “What does it mean? Is it a metaphor, or just a dead bird?” The show doesn’t wrap itself up into an easily decoded or bite-size message but it does stay with you however, and is full of strong visual images and fleeting impressions.

Only at the end is there a move towards something lighter. Enter the faun! Stomping across the stage in high heels, he leads the audience in what is essentially an exercise dance workout, while encouraging everyone to embrace their inner predator.

A particular highlight of Wild Worlds sees the mythical creature lead everyone on a hunting mission. Projections on the far wall display a woodland countryside while a performer suspended in the air in a harness runs across the wall in panic as an entire room full of people chase her across the moving landscape. Following the kill, we are told to take out the heart and bathe in its still warm blood. It’s a great, if gory, moment and a climax to a show that seeks to challenge and confront you in equal parts by shaking you out of your everyday existence.

If this sounds too much for you, the Badgers are running a two-day party on 13 and 14 February which promises to be “romantically rampant.” This should see them return to their hedonistic routes, complete with live music, performances and art installations. Strange, chaotic and full of life, The Artful Badger obviously care deeply about giving you an experience to remember.

Wild Worlds: Dark Sides. Presented by The Artful Badger. 28 January-14 February. Vault Festival, Leake Street, Waterloo. £15. http://www.vaultfestival.com

Review: House of Blakewell’s House Party, Vault Festival

Like every other Peckham house party. But weirder. Image: Richard Davenport
Like every other Peckham house party. But weirder. Image: Richard Davenport
Running until 8 March, the Vault festival has to be one of the most diverse and eclectic lineups of any arts festival in the capital. The Leake Street tunnels, under Waterloo station are transformed for just over five weeks into a series of discussions, parties, live music, theatre, comedy and alternative performance. Many of the up-and-coming artists are fusing cabaret elements into new forms.

House of Blakewell’s House Party is a weird one hour show by duo Harry Blake and Alice Keedwell. It’s a musical revue based on every tired party you’ve been to in Peckham, where the hipsters like their beards full and the crowd are checking their smartphones while trying to work out if anyone is worth chatting up to advance their flailing career in the creative industries. It’s also a great deal of fun and very silly, mixing truth games, shots, tap dancing and lyrics about “drinking till our standards drop” sung riotously by the whole audience.

It’s a testament to the songs, comedy and dance that the show never flags for a single minute. Energy remains high, and through the desolation of a failed party by two people trying too hard to be something they are not, the audience is taken on an emotional journey to a moment of ultimate redemption. Cabaret has never been cool. No one got laid in school by being the best tap dancer. Thankfully as adults we can recognise that there are far more of us who are uncool than cool in the real world and we’re more interesting because of it. This is a show that celebrates the parts of ourselves we’re not terribly proud of, but make us all the more human. It is the comedy of awkward, in inherently British style and there are definitely elements of The Office, or the likes of David Mitchell, wound up in the characterisation.

Audience interaction is a major part of the show, “guests” being brought up for a mock wedding, being roped into listless banter and playing a large game of I have never. Incidentally, for a full audience only five people claimed they hadn’t had sex in a public place. Whether that’s representative of all Londoners I’m unsure, but there is certainly a camaraderie in group shaming followed by vodka that warms your heart.

The show has been part of various fringe festivals in the past, including Edinburgh and Brighton and has a confidence about it’s presentation. New production We Can Make You Happy – will be premiered here for a week at the end of February. On the basis of tonight almost anything could happen. These two will make you sing, laugh, dance and make you feel slightly better about the world. Highly enjoyable.

House Of Blakewell return to the Vaults with We Can Make You Happy from 25 February-8 March.

House Of Blakewell’s House Party. The Vaults, Leake Street, London. 28 January. http://www.vaultfestival.com

Image: Richard Devenport

Review: La Soirée

There’s something more than a little sinister about La Soirée which has opened in London after a three year absence. It’s difficult to pinpoint; it’s certainly not one act more than any other or a particular moment. There’s just a feeling that pervades that this show is kind of, well, off-kilter.

This is direct contrast to much of the circus and variety around which has been getting a little cooler recently. There have been more festivals devoted to these genres across London and the rest of the UK and they have wriggled their way into more club nights, and major events – film and television have started to reflect this, suggesting that they are crossing over and becoming even a little mainstream.

Circus performers are often portrayed as lean and fit, beautiful versions of what humanity could be if it only went to the gym more, didn’t finish that bottle of wine at the end of the night and maybe ate one less burger and smoked one less cigarette. The specimens at La Soirée, on the other hand, seem to be generally populated by the kids who got picked on at school. As Scotty The Blue Bunny says proudly, just before bestriding a huge balloon, “whatever was used against you – whatever part of your personality that held you back as a child – just might be what you get paid for when you’re all grown up.”

This is a show that exults in the weirder side of what the human can do. Despite the great diversity of the acts – from aerial circus to bawdy standup to singing along with a clown – the show retains an admirable coherence due to its slickness and comic presentation. Jokes come thick and fast and a number of acts reference earlier comedic moments, giving the show a unity despite the lack of compering or otherwise interrelation. A good example is Jonathan Burns, whose goofy contortion sees him fold himself through a toilet seat while adopting a character that seems to be a kind of cross between Screech from Saved By the Bell and Napoleon Dynamite. Elsewhere, Asher Treleaven impresses with high level “sexy” Diabolo routine. Neither of these acts are exactly the definition of cool, but both elicit loud rounds of laughter.

Sex is at the forefront of a number of the acts. Treleaven’s later reading from Mills and Boon is wonderfully absurd and filthy. Then there’s Wau Wau Sister Tanya Gagné‘s gender bending trapeze burlesque or Ursula Martinez’s Spanish rendition celebrating female masturbation and total sexual revolution. She later performs her signature magic act Hanky Panky, a routine which sees her gradually disrobe in order to prove that a red handkerchief has not been hidden up her sleeves; with no more clothes to remove, I’ll leave you to guess where the hanky finally ends up. This isn’t, though, a sexy show. Much of the music is ironic eighties references and the presentation lets it all hang out rather than exploring tease and titillation.

There isn’t a poor act throughout the night and the skill level is consistently high. David and Fofo‘s unusual double trapeze and ping pong ball adagio is very well choreographed. Marcus Monroe‘s machete juggling and Jess Love‘s hula hoop are all the more impressive for being on such a small stage where the room for error is greatly reduced.

With a decade of experience, multiple awards and sellout runs under its belt, La Soirée has had the time and space to explore and find its own format. This is high level, slick cabaret, cheeky, naughty, filthy, fun, irreverent yet weird enough to be memorable.

The show ends as it starts with Puddles Pity Party, a sad giant white clown with a voice that is truly beautiful; while everyone else is enjoying themselves, his heart appears to be truly breaking. It is a magnificent performance and the epitome of a show which demonstrates the rich and exciting place cabaret is right now in London.

La Soirée. Creative producer: Brett Haylock. The Spiegeltent, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. £15-£67.50. Until 11 January.

Image: Oskar Cresso

Review: Les 7 Doigts de la Main’s Séquence 8

Séquence 8 continues at the Peacock Theatre until 4 October.
Séquence 8 continues at the Peacock Theatre until 4 October.

This limited run of Séquence 8, the latest creation of Québec company The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main), fizzles with danger and beauty. Seeing this show at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre, I was reminded of a moment when Aaron Sparks talks about modern circus terminology in their show Circus Geeks, when seeing something particularly existential and conceptual is known as “French” – the opposite in many ways of “Russian” which is interpreted as clean, classic and technical in a traditional way. Séquence 8 is a very French show in this regard with performers using props in novel ways often to explore their potential, while the piece as a whole “contemplates the role of the ‘other’ and how we see ourselves through and against it.”

That’s a very abstract idea to build a show on, and at first there’s a risk of it falling into pretension. Happily Séquence 8 always stays on the right side of this line, mostly due to the light humour and astonishing skill level, plus the very real physical risks the performers undertake. Some circus shows try to look dangerous, others really are dangerous and only manage to hold together by landing within a tiny margin of error. This show is definitely the latter, a sad testament to this being the injury of one of the cast three days earlier. Congratulations go to Pablo Valarcher who learned the entire show in such short time to replace Ugo Dario.

There are many moments of the show that hits that special place where your heart rate rises and you see the floor rushing towards the performer and you hope they will live through the next few minutes. Devin Henderson‘s plummet from the top of the chinese pole to within centimetres of the floor, hands behind his back, shows a level of confidence that is truly death-defying.

There are some stand out sections of the show. Eric Bates’s cigar box piece ranks as among the most creative expressions of juggling I’ve ever seen, live or on video. Both on his own and while passing with five other members of the cast, this is seriously good. Elsewhere, Alexandra Royer shines on the Russian beams and aerial hoop. Despite this, the show is very much an ensemble piece, with great emphasis on choreography and group work and is particularly successful because of how well the eight performers work together throughout.

 Séquence 8 is incredibly quirky and for a show with such serious sounding aims, it really doesn’t take itself too seriously. Instead, this is a show that is undoubtedly, unashamedly different and celebrates the individual. Here is a fine example of how contemporary circus can uplift and make you happy, it exists and through that, the world is a more amazing place. The last performance is October 4th and for all circus fans in the UK this is a must-see.

Séquence 8. Performed by The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts de la Main). Peacock Theatre, London EC1R 4TN. £15-38. Until 4 October. http://www.sadlerswells.com

Review: The Tiger Lillies’ Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

Tiger Lillies

Notorious for a repertoire covering drugs, bestiality, blasphemy, sexual deviancy and the dark and dirty sides of life, Brechtian punk cbaret trio The Tiger Lillies are not for the faint of heart or those who like their album collection to have at least a veneer of genteel respectability. So why are they now appearing at the Southbank Centre, one of London’s altars of high art? The answer lies in the latest revival of their 2012 adaption based on the classic Coleridge poem Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.

This work follows on from their Hamlet which also played at the Southbank to critical acclaim. The band emerged in the late 1990s and Rime is yet another particularly avant-garde output from a band always deliberately out of kilter with the mainstream.

Those not well acquainted with the poem are advised to give it a read before seeing the show. While the Tiger Lillies’ songs play with the sinister and supernatural elements of the source material, they also happily meander through tangents and it may not be entirely clear to the uninitiated how they relate to the plot.

The band also seek to explore a whole range of musical styles and expressions in their storytelling; at times, the narrative delves into the dark and portentous while at other times it is silly and unconcerned. The songs do more than exposition, though. Both through the melodies and the lyrics, they create an ambience befitting this moving tale of stubborn determination and final redemption.

The set design has been purpose built to enhance the show’s visual impact. The threesome of Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout and Mike Pickering perform behind a meshed screen, enabling front and rear projections to illustrate the songs and help build the story and atmosphere through particularly well thought out and satisfying animations by Mark Holthusen.

A good example is that of the albatross which is portrayed as a puppet controlled by strings moving across the sky, a clear node to the underlying motif of Rime that it is not free will but God and Death who orchestrate the affairs of the protagonists. Small details and touches like this bring the core tenets of seminal poem to life and create an immersive, shifting interactive landscape.

The songs and the images together evoke an eclectic mix of emotions throughout the show’s 90 minutes running time, not least fear, joy, bitterness, anger, sexual sadism, guilt and repentance. Through the moving images and artwork, there’s a very real sense of being taken on a journey with the band. Though I’ve known the poem for many years, I’m struck by just how weird this interpretation is and that there really couldn’t be a more suitable band to realise this stage version.

Watching the trio, there is a definite sense that here is a band very happy to be different. The have taken risks by playing around with the poem and its concepts and, in so doing, they are certainly not taking the easy or simple route to expressing their vision.

Those fans looking for a runthrough of the band’s many hits would be advised to see them at their more conventional shows. Rime is likely to appeal to supporters who want a different experience and know the work of this amazing band well. There are moments though, like the encore performance of a pumped up Living Hell that are just so rocking and badass it would be hard to imagine anyone with a soft spot for the Tiger Lillies walking away from this inventive and involving production without at least a smile on their face.

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Created and performed by the Tiger Lillies. Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX. £20-30. 29 August 2014. http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

Review: Circus Maximus 2014, First Heat

And behold, Circus Maximus is back for it’s second year!

620 x 360 CMAX 2014 VISUALS 3

 

The Underbelly talent show that aims to find the best circus performer in the UK… or at least the best one who applied to the competition. Given that the performers cite Sheffield, Bristol, Forest of Dean and Loughborough as their places of origin, there seems to be a decent geographical representation of England.

If you like Britain’s Got Talent, X-Factor, or one of the other derivative TV talent shows – and if you like circus – then this week of competition is probably the event for you. It runs to much the same formula as those more well known outputs (heats followed by a final), except on a smaller scale, with no irrelevant explorations of the entrants’ emotional backstories; and Simon Cowell isn’t allowed in the building. So it’s better. Much better in fact.

Tonight’s first heat sees Ian Marchant playfully warming up the crowd, and skilfully showing off a vast array of juggling and vaudeville tricks in between acts. His timing is excellent, and he draws in the audience while nicely taking the focus away from some of the setups and rigging changes. My favourite part of the night is a line of introduction to a trick that sees Marchant catch 6 spoons in 6 cups simultaneously (I won’t ruin it for you, as I have a feeling he may use it more than once).

There is a good variety of acts, starting with Tori McGrory’s Lollipop, an aerial rope act that is all cutesy fifties smirks and smiles. I also saw this act at Gravity Aerial Academy’s recent graduate show, A Night of Gravity, and it definitely seems consistent; she looks confident up there.

The second act, Fulcrum Circus, look a little more hesitant, with a few wobbles in places. Simon Scotting and Emily Rose’s hand-to-hand act has some good moments, (plus she’s bendy and he’s strong so they are able to make nice shapes); however, without a real rise into more complicated moves, the number doesn’t feel heavy hitting enough. In duo acts, a story of partners coming together and moving apart emotionally has been done to death, so you have to nail it or it feels repetitive – a trap Fulcrum unfortunately fall into.

The winners of the night, Jalina (Helina Griffiths and Janine Elizabeth Mahon), perform on an aerial hoop, rigged at its sides so it can turn horizontally in the air. Despite having a truly bizarre name for their act – Clockworkkittenpig – they win over the audience with a well rounded number. Costumes, movements and music all work together to give a strange off kilter feel and, as they sail over and past each other while the hoop spins on it’s axis, the audience really get behind them.

Full disclosure: I have worked with Andy Wakeford and Simon Ratzker from Flambé Circus in the past. Their entry, Disco Wars, with Tor Callis and Helena Parsons, is the circus equivalent of Tron; using a range of different object manipulation skills and disciplines lit with LED’s and pyrotechnics, it’s an ambitious act. It feels like it would work better on a bigger stage as a couple of the isolations don’t work so well if you aren’t dead centre. Though this temperamental technology presents two problems this evening, the troupe are clearly well rehearsed. The partner poi is the best element of the act.

The last contenders, Arbor Circus, use an aerial cradle, but unfortunately the space doesn’t allow for duo Darryl Carrington and Gemma Michael’s trademark swinging. It’s a good strong act, where Carrington and Michael are accompanied by a live violinist who gives a lot of warm human presence to the act. The flips and catches draw probably the biggest gasp of the evening. The cradle is a big impressive piece of equipment to use, and Arbor do so very well. This is a short excerpt from a longer show, which I would like to see!

Circus Maximus is fun, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Plus you get to decide who goes through to the final round. From my experience tonight, Saturday’s final between the week’s winners should be of a very high quality.

Circus Maximus. Udderbelly, Jubilee Gardens, London SE1 8XX. 8-12th July. £17.50-19.50. https://www.underbelly.co.uk/node/5382253

Review: Circus of Men

 

Stephen Williams performs on aerial chains
Stephen Williams performs on aerial chains

Circus of Men is the latest output from the Black Fire Agency, a company that has always enjoyed putting sex at the forefront of the show.  A quick look through their Fuel Girls photos reveals countless shots of ladies in various degrees of “nearly naked”, often with a stray hand languishing on another’s thigh.  This new show promises to be their “most erotic, sexual and dynamic”.  Given what they are known for, this is a bit like Marmite promising to make their new Marmite even more Marmitey than ever before. Can it be done?

The showroom of the Hippodrome Casino has a good set-up for cabaret, and Ophelia Bitz is a great compère: naughty, cheeky and funny, she prances around looking like the cat who got the cream. A big draw for this show is the quality of the performers. Sir Leopold Aleksander is one of the openers with a true one of a kind act.  His feats of strength – presented as a lecture on the art of gentlemanliness, valour and honour – are just as good each time I’ve seen them. He offers a skilled mix of good comic timing and strong character presence, whilst also performing a wide variety of impressive testaments to his abilities. He smashes a watermelon with his forehead, breaks out of handcuffs, cracks nuts with his massive hands and politely offers them to the ladies in the audience, and a whole lot more. By the end of his act, the stage is strewn with discarded bits and pieces.

It’s not all about the gentlemen here though. The Du Sol Sisters, Delia and Yvette, perform a great double aerial hoop act. The parallel shapes they are able to pull with their extreme flexibility make this a very beautiful thing to watch. The aerial chains act by Stephen Williams is another highlight; it is strong and confident.  One of the final acts, by Ali and Klodi, offers a dance style of acrobalance that also works well, with both performers showing off a high level of acrobatics while moving continually and using the whole of the stage.

The promotional flyer states that the show will “explore the exciting world of female fantasy, with the hottest male performers in London – ladies only… shhh.”  The event seems very nearly sold out and, while the majority of faces are female, as expected, there is a good male contingent as well. Many of the performers, particularly Sir Leopold Aleksander, pull off great innuendo-laden banter with the guys and girls equally.

What strikes me is that, while all of the performers are clearly good looking and the choreography is sexualised, we still find it difficult to know what heteronormative female sexual fantasy should look like. Go to any cabaret and it’s easy to see women in a resplendent display of sexuality, with a great number of roles, costumes and fantasies to be tapped into. It’s hard not to see women in representations of male sexuality everywhere: films, TV and adverts are exploding with them.  Gay sexuality too, in cabaret at least, is very well open to diversity. The hangover of patriarchy means that honest straight female sexuality is largely unexplored. Tonight sees a lot of muscular guys, shirtless, wearing trousers; as a society it really underpins where we are right now. We don’t really know any other way to represent this.

When images of sexy females are everywhere, turning the tables and putting men in the spotlight is a good thing, for the balance of equality at least. But it would be nice if we could reach some higher understanding of female sexuality or question it a little more.

If we are getting too heavy into gender-theory here then, rest assured, this is an entertaining show with great performers. And, if you like your sex straight up and served on a plate, then it might make you a little weak at the knees too.  This is the grand premier, so it will be very interesting to see where the evolution of the show takes it.