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.

Circus Review: A Night Of Gravity

A Night of Gravity, the gala for students graduating from the 12 week intensive aerial course at Gravity Circus Centre, sees them performing alongside their teachers and, while the students don’t eclipse their masters, the sell-out crowd is a very warm one and the acts are strong.

The proceedings are left in the capable hands of Fred Bear. He gets the audience onside early by bribing them with cake, and then later has them in stitches with his confident compering. His two “bearlesque” acts are great, especially the second – a comic tribute to Flashdance featuring a timely bucket of water.

In most circus cabarets you would expect to see only one or perhaps two aerial acts if any at all. Tonight, with the exception of Jonathan Finch’s proficient hand-balancing routine and Fred Bear, the whole cast are high above us. Great news for those who are really into aerial; although, as seven of the performances are rope acts it does mean you have to really be into rope to enjoy this particular bill.  It’s a shame that there is no hoop, trapeze or one of the more niche disciplines like net or chains to balance it out.

Having said that, all of the acts have their own flavour, whether it is cheeky pin-up, horror or outer space. Alfa‘s use of a short rope somehow makes her act feel much more dramatic and dangerous than it is, and is an intriguing way of changing the apparatus. Willy Wagtail‘s act Faun is the best from the students; the comic death at the start gets a good laugh from the audience and his display of strength is impressive.

My favourite parts of the evening are the two double rope acts on display. The first, from Gravity headteachers Leo and Yam, is a comedy character act that features gender-bending film noir, a hidden gun and a great array of what is possible in a double act. There are genuine streaks of humour and it is the first time I’ve seen a performer engage in rope while wearing high heels. The act is well designed and ends very strongly but could use a little editing and sharpening up. As Fred Bear says to the heterosexual men in the audience, “if you’re having strange feelings after that one, don’t worry just go with it!”

It is noticeable though that, of the performers tonight, all are either female or flirting openly with homosexuality or gender play; you do wonder where the straight men are in aerial circus (although admittedly Felipe Reyes performed in the Friday night line-up the previous evening). Will Davis teams up with Wagtail for a final duo act Reach which is wonderful (see below). Showing a couple at a difficult stage, or the end of their relationship, it is full of lost empty moments and beautiful positions. It’s a great way to end the night.

Will Davis and Willy Wagtail perform Reach as part of A Night Of Gravity.
Gravity Circus Centre is growing and developing at the moment; with their relatively new premises they’ve started teaching a larger number of disciplines and this feels like a school on an upswing. Many of tonight’s performers can be seen at Glastonbury next month as part of The Leo and Yam Show, something that could be well worth looking up.

A Night Of Gravity. Produced by Gravity Circus Centre. 17 May. Jacksons Lane, London N6 5AA. http://www.jacksonslane.org.uk

Circusfest 2014 Review: Beta Testing

Part lecture, part performance, Beta Testing is full of in-jokes and geeky reference points, but told in an inclusive way that makes sure the audience is at all times part of the action. Much of the show is proving to the audience that there is no trick in the tricks, no illusion or falseness, just hard work, an obsessive disposition and a love of the art of juggling. A really really great love of the art of juggling. Did I mention there was juggling? Well there is – lots of it.

Starting with some five ball endurance, the three performers take you on a tour of object manipulation, showcasing the different skills and at times mixing them all together. This show is just as much about the juggler as the juggling and what it is like day to day living and working at something that to the wider world can seem like a joke or at best a hobby – not something serious, or something that can matter deeply to someone.

There are a lot of genuine moments, some impressive skills and some great outright funny routines; in particular the dead fish is a wonderful comic piece of theatre. That said the show could be developed further. At its best, it embraces the lecture aspect fully and invites us to see the world through someone else’s eyes; however, the inclusion of some skits feels less unique to Circus Geeks and a little more familiar circus territory. It also asks the audience to change position from inside the fourth wall to outside of it and this can be jarring – as if it is no longer clear what is expected of you. Are we onside with our hosts or watching them?

My favourite parts of this show are when the explanations work hand in hand with the performance. For many people it is very hard to distinguish some parts of juggling to others. Much of it just looks, well, “hard” if only to the casual observer. Breaking down the tricks and talking the audience through them is an effective way of building an appreciation and an anticipation for what’s next. This works particularly well during a piece about modern juggling lexicon.

Another example is the the routine Red/Green, which is a variation of Red/Blue created by the late Luke Wilson under Creative Commons and free for anyone to use. It involves a series of technically perfect throws of different rotations shown by the two colours. This is taken one step further here by the change of colours, as it is performed by someone who is colour blind.

The pace of the show never lags and it feels a great shame when it comes to an end. Arron Sparks graduated from Circus Space (sorry… the National Centre for Circus Arts) in 2008 and Matt Pang and Jon Udry are also still fresh faced. Sparks has been commissioned by the Glastonbury Festival to create a second show Down-UP and with some funding from The Arts Council coming in, this company looks set to grow into their own voice and find their niche. The mixture of technology, statistics, blogging and social media to document their skills integrates circus into the modern world; this is a very 21st century approach to an age-old art and one that shows plenty of promise.

Beta Testing. Performed by Arron Sparks, Matt Pang and Jon Udry. The Roundhouse, London NW1 8EH. 22-26 April. http://www.roundhouse.org.uk

Ten Ways Punchdrunk Are Rewriting The Rule Book For Theatrical Cabaret

Conor Doyle, Ed Warner, Omar Gordon, Tomislav English & Vinicius Salles appearing in Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. Photo by Birgit & Ralf

Theatrical cabaret has long been a place of experimentation and diversity. Free from the shackles of conventionality, it provides scope to explore performance art to it’s fullest. Espoused by venues like The Box and performers like Miss Rose Wood and the Late Night Shop Cabaret, this form of storytelling allows absurdity and surrealism to sit comfortably alongside the confrontational and it is this constant shifting across boundaries and blurring lines that makes it so exciting and unexpected.

As the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner pointed out, cabaret has much to teach traditional theatre but that also goes the other way. One of the best genre-defying theatre groups working today is Punchdrunk who manage to effortless blend acting, physical theatre, dance, performance, music and much more into an entirely cohesive world all of their own that is at once both grand and at the same time can be minutely detailed.

Punchdrunk’s eccentric brand of theatre has long since passed the stage where they were sitting on the ack in the UK . Having torn up the rule book with breakthrough pieces such as Faust, a piece I saw back in 2006 in a tobacco warehouse in Wapping, they have grown considerably. They thrilled Big Apple audiences with Sleep No More and are now back in the UK. For this one, they have partnered with the National Theatre to take over a 200,000 sq ft space that plays to 600 people a night for a production that has proved so popular they are now extending it to the end of February next year.

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable has a budget of a small film, over a hundred individual connected sets, a large cast and if played continuously would run to 10 hours, though audiences can only explore the space for 3 hours. What might once have seemed avant-garde, ludicrous, even impossible, now appears perfectly reasonable for Punchdrunk to take on. So how are they rewriting the rule book for theatrical cabaret in the 21st century?


Build the anticipation up early and keep the audience guessing.

The project kicked off this year with a secret instillation in Dalston on the Kingsland road. Those brave enough to enter a curious looking shop and ask for Andrez, were taken down into a set where he’d play you a short film and terrify you with his urgency. Not for the faint hearted then. And certainly not a conventional piece of theatre. Those who spoke to Andrez were probably no closer to understanding The Drowned Man or knowing what to expect from the full production, but it certainly aroused their curiosity and the secret was quickly trending on twitter.


Let the audience decide what they want to watch

All the worlds a stage and actors play out their stories in live stream, don’t expect a comfy seat or a comfortable ride, but instead follow the story that seems the most compelling. Wear some sensible shoes and be prepared to chase them down dark corridors, through woodlands, deserts and faded Hollywood studios.


Let the audience go their own way

With their biggest set to date, Punchdrunk have created a fantastic landscape, a series of interconnected sets and tableaus. Emphasis is given to exploring and having your own adventure so the best way to experience the production is to go it alone and find your own way. It also means you have more chance of piecing everything together when you are reunited with friends in the bar at the end. Couples hoping to hold hands should be dissuaded: be brave and go it alone.


Let the audience be the ultimate voyeur: touching, feeling, explore

At times you find yourself surrounded by a large audience as several characters come together for big set pieces. At another point I found myself uncomfortably alone with just one other person watching a nearly naked actress alone, living out her quiet desperation drinking urgently and crying. The rest of the audience had left, feeling perhaps they were intruding. Somehow I felt compelled to stay. Voyeurism is very much at the heart of Punchdrunk and is encouraged. The sets are complex and beautiful, touch, feel, explore them. Experience the world in the way you want to.


Masks are more than disguises.

As you enter you will be given a mask. This serves two purposes. The first is to delineate the boundary between actor and audience. You need to know who is a part of the production and who is not, otherwise you may find you’ve spent half the night following a well dressed punter thinking they were integral to the plot. The second is to heighten the anonymity of the audience. With a mask on you feel much more able to explore, others are aware of you, but it is much easier to melt into the shadows. The audience becomes a part of the setting, as characters are followed and chased by strange, shifting shadows – adding to the hallucinatory experience.


Don’t worry about saying too much.

While you are only invited into this world for a maximum of 3 hours, if played out the production would be far longer. The Drowned Man tells two parallel stories, though I only felt I saw one of them in any depth and was surprised to see a number of new characters I’d missed at the end. It didn’t matter. You’d have to go back many times to feel like you’d seen the whole picture and it’s rewarding piecing it together later on. Each member of the audience has a different experience and it’s not all supposed to fit together perfectly. The overall feeling is more important than each individual detail.


Physical theatre, dialogue, dance are all a valid form of storytelling.

While some of the story is told through conventional dialogue, much more is expressed through dance or movement. The beautiful layered soundscape means individual words can be lost but the choreography is so powerful as to take on a more important role much of the time.


Desperation, depression and madness are all part of the fun.

Don’t expect a comedy! The Drowned Man and previous productions often deal with themes of madness, paranoia and deep seated unhappiness. The sets are dark and intimidating, scenes often disjointed and confusing. Be brave.


Leave them wanting more.

There’s no way to see everything and the end comes all to quickly. Sometimes you lose a character you’ve been following for a while and are unable to find them again. This is in no way frustrating as something else will quickly cross your path. It will just make you eager for the next production. There is such a sensory overload, it’s difficult to take in all at once. With time you start to reflect and understand more. Part of the joy of a Punchdrunk production is mulling it over afterwards trying to piece the bits together. One of the most powerful pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen was at the end of Faust where surrounded by a large audience in devil masks, Mephistopheles swings a lone interrogatory lightbulb, strips the hero naked, ties him to a chair and beats him before dragging him down to hell. Not your average night out then, and sure to stay with you for a while to come!

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable has been extended into February 2014. This is one company who feel truly unique in their approach to storytelling and as they grow and develop, their ambition grows with them ensuring productions don’t feel in any way formulaic. Buy your ticket now and get ready for a new mode of storytelling. Punchdrunk are and remain leaders in a field of one.


Review: Burlescapade

Burlescapade brought together graduating students from two different burlesque schools.
Burlescapade brought together graduating students from two different burlesque schools.

Can students from two competing schools ever come together to create something new? Can they shake off their diverse tutelage to perform on the same stage or will they always co-exist like star-crossed lovers who see each other across a darkened burlesque parlour knowing they must never betray their origins? Well, here comes Burlescapade ready to find out for their first night with a cast of debutants from both The Cheek of It and Burlesque Baby, both of which claim to be among the leading burlesque schools in the UK.

The idea behind the night came when two of the schools’ students found that, as they would be out of the UK, they would not be able to make their graduation. Rather than miss out, they decided to organise their own event and, after looking around for others just starting out, they came up with tonight’s lineup albeit, going by the flyer, some last minute changes.

The Underbelly in Hoxton Square is a decent enough burlesque joint with its painted ceiling displaying a strange medley of 1970s porn and jungle motifs and a red velvet draped stage the perfect size for disrobing. The venue is packed by the slightly delayed start with a convivial atmosphere before the compere even reaches the stage.

Confidence is integral for new performers and every one of these new showgirls stands up fearlessly in front of the crowd, despite occasionally looking like they are concentrating on what must be new material. The compere, a drag artiste going by the name of Matron, can clearly be seen with a card that has the words for the opening song on it hidden poorly under a peacock feather, but she pulls it off somehow and the night is fun and friendly.

Miss Oopsie Ohh‘s brilliant turn as a clumsy geeky girl, burdened by her shyness and an awkward manner, is a winning one. Fellow burlesquers Rubyyy Jones and Phil Ingud also have geeky routines but, speaking to this showgirl after the show, she told me that her inspiration for the routine came from neither of these artistes but her own life: the character is based on an exaggerated version of herself as she often bangs into things or knocks them over which made her onstage stumbling and bumbling persona second nature. This is perhaps why it seems the most well rounded of all the acts.

Portia Lynn also starts and finishes well with a doll-like routine that is made up of jerky robotic movements, which are quite uncanny, though they do get lost a little towards the middle of the act. Other starlets – Bebe van der Belt, Coco Cane and Monaco Blush each perform funny and cheeky routines that go down well and have a noticeable hook to them. Thankfully, no-one opts for a purely sexy routine, which is all for the good with humour winning out over outright titillation at every turn.

Though a little rough around the edges, this was a strong first night from a bunch of performers who all showed promise. Moreover, the atmosphere and the audience were both encouraging; first outings are always nerve-racking.

For those who enjoyed or missed out on this debut show, there is some good news. A second joint outing has been tentatively scheduled for the end of March 2014. Watch this space for more information.

Burlescapade. The Underbelly, Hoxton Square, London  N1 6NU. 19 November. 18:30. £7.50. tinyurl.com/burlescapade

Review: Circus Bites

Heard the one about the big top show hidden away in a local arts centre? Circus Bites does away with the fineries of the fairground to focus on London’s plethora of skilled physical performers.

Circus Bites: the impressive morsels of big top action included Bella Kinetika (above)
Circus Bites: the impressive morsels of big top action included Bella Kinetika (above)

For North Londoners who will find any excuse not to cross the river unless dragged kicking and screaming, it may come as a shock to them to discover that there is a reason to go to (of all places) Deptford. Those of you who don’t believe me should take a trip to the Albany, surely one of the most unique and interesting venues in London. The space allows for tables and chairs all around, with an upper balcony that means the audience there can see the action comfortably. The very reasonably priced bar helps to make this an experience immeasurably better than the vast majority of circus venues. It also gives loads of room for the performances. It’s great to find new places in London that feel like neighbourhood secrets.

Circus Bites has a strong line-up of corde lisse, hand-balancing, roller-skating acrobatics, acrobalance, and static trapeze. The majority of acts feature artists in a stripped down role, without character or costume alongside music without vocals. Belle Kinetica‘s inclusion in this bill is a questionable decision because, while their duo piece Life on Wheels (a small section of their one hour show set in the 1940s about friendship between two women) is good, it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the evening’s show.

Another aspect that sits strangely is the dynamic between compères Tricity Vogue and Jamie Anderson and the acts they are introducing. Vogue twice calls one of the acts “flying trapeze” when it is quite clearly static, a mistake which would be inconceivable to anyone with even a basic knowledge of aerial arts. This is modern circus, a pure exhibition of skill that is both raw and human, whereas cabaret singers Anderson and Vogue are slapstick, camp and playful. The contrast is a little bizarre, to be sure.Again the two of them seem confident and comfortable on stage, but it comes across at odds with the show’s concept.

All of the acts tonight are skilled and performed to a high level. Nikki and Jean Daniel‘s acrobalance routine is a particular highlight. Their My Angel Rocks Back And Forth is a hesitant piece that is well choreographed and makes informed use of the space. A mixture of well executed transitions and something quite gentle and soft, the ebb and flow of the movements echoes the title and draws you in as the two move from beautifully accomplished handstand lifts, to subtle holds that are sensual and somehow incomplete.

Paul Evans‘s I’m A Human is another wonderful turn filled with dynamic moves making a complex piece that is filled with movement while Ana Perez De Manuel‘s rope act To Be Born is unsettling and confrontational, though it feels slightly unfinished. The silence in its first half amplifies her breathing, creating an atmosphere of struggle mixed with fear, but when the music comes in the piece becomes too disjointed.

Arete by Zoe Jones is strong and only one slight wobble stops this from being perfectly executed. Her background in gymnastics is obvious as her hand-balancing is clear evidence of someone with a huge wealth of experience to draw on.

Circus Bites then, is a show featuring plenty of talent, but feels incomplete. As it stands, it hasn’t quite got its own identity as it lacks cohesion but there is much potential. With the capital’s biennial big top extravaganza that is CircusFest 2014 about to roll around, Circus Bites could be about to become the neighbourhood secret on everyone’s lips.

Circus Bites. Hosted by Jamie Anderson and Tricity Vogue. 8 November.  The Albany, London SE8 4AG. http://www.thealbany.org.uk

The Double R Club’s Summer Of Unease Heats Up London Wonderground

The Double R Club continue their “Summer Of Unease” tour by stepping out of the light and into the dark of the London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent.

Benjamin Louche, ringmaster and co-founder of the Double R Club
Benjamin Louche, ringmaster and co-founder of the Double R Club

Don’t imagine you’re in for a night of feathers and frivolity; the Double R Club proudly present the darker side of cabaret taking inspiration from the world of auteur David Lynch. The dark interior of the Spiegeltent on the Southbank is a perfect venue for all things sinister and this latest instance of the award-winning show is filled with highlights that refuses to let you know what’s coming next.

The night kicks off with a weird half-lit musical number from aberrant host, Benjamin Louche. His effortless banter with the crowd, calmly deflecting hecklers, calling for applause and nodding to in jokes for those who have seen the show previously – marks him out as a great compere.

If the night started a little weird it rapidly descends into really quite deranged. The opening act Blanche Dubois appears as a near-naked reanimated corpse wrapped up in cling-film dancing while mouthing the words to a Portishead number. It’s a great moment in cabaret when you think to yourself: “What the hell am I watching now?” Traumata takes it one step further by pulling out a series of needles from her forehead leaving trails of blood dripping down across her chest and onto the stage.

The first half comes to a close with Laurie Hagen performing her award-winning backwards strip-tease. It is not a new routine by any means. There’s video of it online from last year but the 2D version doesn’t do justice to seeing Hagen perform her reverse burlesque live. Her movements are those of a dancer, precise and perfect and it is so convincing one can only imagine she spent months watching a video in reverse to choreograph the movements. It sounds like a simple idea, but it could so easily fall flat without the consummate skill to pull it off. This is a magnificent burlesque act which is easily worth the price of admission alone.

The second half gets a lift with Rosie Rowlands performing an aerial act that is distorted and full of purposely awkward shapes. Coming after the interval, its timing is perfect and it elevates the show to another level. Final act Snake Fervor lights vapour trails of fire across her body, eats burning torches and breathes huge flames that can be felt at the back of the audience. Her confidence is a true marvel and the routine always feels like it’s building up to something bigger and bigger.

There certainly doesn’t feel like there is any major weak point throughout the show. One criticism would be of the naked dancers covered in blood; they feel out of place, the gore bringing to mind Quentin Tarantino more than the psychodrama of Lynch. Fake blood isn’t shocking anymore; we’ve grown up in a jaded age and the real stuff earlier.

The Double R Club has won Best Ongoing Production at the London Cabaret Awards for the last two years. Believe the hype. Those faint of heart be warned: this is the product of disturbed minds.

The Double R Club. Hosted by Benjamin Louche. London Wonderground, Jubilee Gardens, off Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX. 12 July. 9.15pm. £16-£220.50. The Double R Club’s Facebook Page

The Double R Club returns for their second and final date at the London Wonderground on 2 August. More information here.

Photo credits: Sin Bozkurt

Review: L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres Perform Tom Waits

Gravel-voiced singer Tom Waits’ magnificent music has built up a cult following and how the self-styled “cabaret tribute” L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres interpret his opus in a highly original manner.

L'Orchestre d'Hommes-Orchestres
L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres

The six piece group L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres from Quebec certainly raise questions with their approach to Tom Waits’ back catalogue. As a huge fan of the gravelly-voiced one’s works, I had certain trepidation over seeing how possibly his kookiest set of fans would be interpreting his works.

The idea of seeing some people play his music is definitely appealing though one is left wondering what the point of it was – do his need yet another tribute act? Happily, a sheer energetic madness that erupts within seconds of the six piece L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres arriving on stage wipes these thoughts away.

Over the course of the hour-and-a-half, around 100 instruments are used to bring Waits’ songs to life; frankly, there may have been even more. A suitcase is used for a bass drum; a wooden spoon rattled between teeth adds a syncopated rhythm; fizzing candy adds a scratchy analogue record feel; dominos, bottles, pipettes, pasta, oranges, one-string-basses, guitars, violins…. even a pram are all given their own musical dimensions. I’ve often listened to Tom Waits and thought that he sounds like a mad prophet rattling around in an old tin shed filled with hammers and tea pots – now seeing a mousetrap clicked in front of a microphone I feel like maybe I’m getting a glimpse of what his studio might really look like.

L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres taking on Tom Waits

Waits is known for encouraging other artists to use his music and re-work it. Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and Rod Stewart have all covered his tracks as have countless others. Waits himself has contributed vocals to a plethora of tracks by other artists, many of which he’s received no payment for. He has also constantly explored different styles and gravitated towards less common instruments, saying “Your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they’ve been. You have to be careful when playing is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. You have to break them of their habits or you don’t explore; you only play what is confident and pleasing. I’m learning to break those habits by playing instruments I know absolutely nothing about, like a bassoon or a waterphone.” With all this in mind, there’s no doubt that he would be pleased by what this show is trying to do, by deconstructing his songs and putting them back together in an even more chaotic fashion than they were originally recorded.

Throughout the show, just as much attention is given to the physicality of the words as the sounds and rhythms. A particular highlight of the show is the orchestra’s surreal yet literal take on Chocolate Jesus: one of the two female performers eats a huge bar of chocolate, while the other looks on with blatant envy. Elsewhere a beat is tapped out by smacking a tin with a pair of walking boots, and four guys sing vocal harmonies while inside an empty picture frame they hold up to enclose them. All six members of the band then crawl over each other, play parts of each other’s bodies and hold glasses and cigarettes for them all to use in turn.

The spellbinding visual and sonic originality of this ensemble’s approach is encapsulated in a scene which sees a beat established through one person wearing a helmet with a golf club attached while another musician has a bell on their head that smashes into a frying pan held by two others who high-five, a process which repeats every few seconds over a five minute song.

A furious finale sees the stage utterly destroyed as the orchestra leaves noticeably panting to a sight and sound not of their making, namely a double standing ovation which is a well-deserved tribute from the audience to a brilliant show which oozes skill, invention and audacity throughout. Tom Waits fans looking to experience this take on his back catalogue should note that they will beat the Southbank Centre every night until Sunday 7th July.

L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres Performs Tom Waits. Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX. 2-7 July, 19:45 (18:00 on 7 July). £20. http://www.southbankcentre.com

Photo credit: Daniel Webb

Review: The Church Of Legs Akimbo

Those of a religious or sensitive nature should look away now.

The Reverend Alabama Jackson
The Reverend Alabama Jackson

“Hallelujah motherfuckers and welcome to The Church, a place where you can sin and sin and sin again and there will always be redemption for you in the morning if you ask for it.” And so begins the evening’s service in a place where guilt is outlawed and baby Jesus himself is eager for you to get on down and have a damned good time.

The evening sees Bethnal Green Working Man’s club appropriately enough bedecked with chintz and luminous crucifixes. First impressions would suggest that this might be a bit goth, if it wasn’t all so glittery. Host Arse-Angel Gabriel arrives on stage adorned by leggings, short chaps and a set of white wings that have seen better days or maybe decades. Who knew heaven was quite so gay?


The fallen feathered friend of God introduces an eclectic bill of physical comedy and character acts including the silly Carlo Jacucci, the mystical Stefan Gaphausen and the frankly bizarre We Are Goose.

The latter works a ten-minute act of lengthy historical explanation of the birth of the 19th century body snatching movement up to a climax of a man dressed as an Irish giant waving his arms around and singing “No, No, John Hunter, don’t take my body, don’t take my soul.” They have an “evil-o-meter” which elicits more laughs than you’d expect. At one of its extremes, Bill Murray smokes a pipe as the symbol of absolute joy in the world while at the other Jimmy Savile as He Who Must Not Be Named is the symbol of absolute evil, showing that you can’t go wrong with shameless bad taste.

The evening is, however, all about The Church of Legs Akimbo, an hour long show that is at once blasphemous, joyful and filled with energy. For decades now, rock and roll has taken from soul and gospel and is now giving something back to JEEESUS. The main instigator in this show is the Reverend Alabama Jackson who evinces a mixture of mock religious ecstasy, southern down-home charm and full stage swagger. Backing up the good rev are his disciples featuring three backing singers/dancers in sparkling choral robes, an organist and even a DJ.

The Church lead the congregation in a rousing set of songs that gets Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club singing along and swaying with them. Of course it is only a matter of time before the weddings, absinthe absolutions and other ceremonies get underway and the crowd here are happy to get involved, no doubt helped by the fact it is past midnight on a Friday and everyone seems quite pissed. Sermons like this would drive many back to religion. Jackson is a man to follow on a crusade, such is his conviction.

It’s a strange show. A bit like when Spinal Tap started playing actual gigs and you weren’t sure whether it was still character acting or if they’d somehow become an actual band. Here too at some points the satire fades away as the enthusiasm behind it feels so genuine. The people behind this show have gone to great lengths to have a good time and they damn well want you to have a good time with them.

We have no idea what evangelical Christians who are being spoofed here would make of this but there is nothing malicious in this show and the humour stems from a good place. If you feel like being saved from the mundanity of modern life, book a pew down at the Church of Legs Akimbo

Review: The Arrival

A new collaboration between Tamasha and Circus Space is a strange multi-layered story of journeys and migrations.

The Arrival makes uneven use of circus and theatre.
The Arrival makes uneven use of circus and theatre.

The Arrival is a reworking of Shaun Tan’s graphic novel of the same name in a collaboration between Tamasha and Circus Space. Four and a half years in the making, it’s a strange multi-layered story of journeys and migrations, pertinent to a city that is one of the most ethnically diverse places on the planet, where the word multiculturalism has many meanings. It’s also a good subject for Tamasha who have been working to bring Asian culture into the British mainstream now for twenty-three years with some notable successes.

There is a lot of suspense in moving to a new place, a new country and a new continent – utterly unimaginable to a migrant who has come from a small town on the other side of the world and this is brought out in quite a literal sense by suspending performers in the air using various pieces of apparatus. Projections, recorded voices, snippets of conversation are woven together to bring together people of different backgrounds across time into something cohesive in the shared experience of disembarking and not knowing what the world will bring you next.

The Arrival works through it’s effective staging and changing tempo and the verbatim passages of experiences of immigrants to this country, which makes it genuinely moving in places. One passage about seeing snow for the first time strikes true to me as it recalls an almost identical conversation I had with a man from Zambia in Manchester once. The words are in of themselves quite wonderful, and it’s effective because it forces us to empathise with people who are all too often marginalised without in any way being didactic.

The production as a whole is successful and shows the skill in Kristine Landon-Smith’s direction. The pace is particularly good and the energy of the piece ebbs and flows, heightening the tension to draw the audience in only to let it go in a comic moment. However, though this is a marriage of two parties it is not an equal one, for while the circus serves to highlight thematic resonances within the drama, the drama does not serve to highlight the circus elements in their own right.

During the question and answer session following the piece I asked why this story was told through circus and the answer was simply that there had been the possibility of a collaboration. A marriage of convenience then! When directing performers, anything resembling “a trick” was discarded; this has left the circus so underplayed that at many points it simply disappears. These are graduates of Circus Space who have spent years training and The Arrival does not fully utilise their skills.

The aerial hoop performance lasts less than a minute and the rope routine is similarly short. The silks are not used save to make a sort of cocoon and may as well have been a hammock: the slack line is hidden as a string of lights and the straps is used only for a comic moment.

While circus productions often use scenery to give their apparatus a flavour, here it seems like the circus is forced to apologise for itself – and only the chinese pole comes close to being developed. Tamasha have missed a trick here by not letting the performers do what they are trained for. The thick accents and broken speech that punctuates the production are indicative of people who have the same vastly complex emotional landscapes as all humans have, yet are unable to express it to their full potential, what better way to show this inner world non-linguistically than via the artistry of physical circus movement?

Those who like drama told in interesting new ways should like this piece. Those who enjoy circus may well be left wanting more.

The Arrival. By Tamasha & Circus Space. Jacksons Lane, London. Until 13 April.

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Review: Bianco

No Fit State Circus return to the Roundhouse with Bianco, their first show since tabù, their 2009 smash hit.

Bianco by No Fit State Circus continues until 27 April.
Bianco by No Fit State Circus continues until 27 April.

Anarchic, pure and powerful, No Fit State Circus’s new show Bianco will open your eyes to the potential for contemporary circus in this country in the 21st century. If you still see circus as lions and elephants, bumbling clowns and girls in skimpy costumes then you must see this show if only to cast away that image forever. What they have done here is not so much re-invent the wheel as take off the shiny hubcaps, strip down the body panels and open it up so we can see the nuts and bolts, the mechanics and workings in movement.

No Fit make full use of the Roundhouse’s unusual central space with a complex rigging system that is celebrated and not hidden away. The truss is lit up, so too are the performers acting as counterweights for the aerialists. The aerial hoops are untaped steel rings, the carabiners and straps are plain. Everything is very present, very real and human. This makes the beauty of the movements all the more true and breathtaking in their execution. There are no tricks here, no slight of hand or mis-direction and as a consequence this is a very honest show – well thought out – a truly beautiful piece of theatre.

Costumes are monochrome, narrative non-linear, impressions and tableaus cross over each other. Why are we here? Who are these people? Does it matter? Captivating from the first instant to the final act, a lone trapeze artist shrouded in falling white flakes, this is a show that doesn’t leave you a moment to get comfortable. Time slips by. What happens here will stay with you and it’s worth holding on to.

Much of the show takes place above the audience.
Much of the show takes place above the audience.

The live music by Gareth Jones and his band heightens the tension as it slips through genres drawing us forward through the show. It too is barely contained and rides on the edge, ready to fall apart at the right moment. A blond haired girl in a red dress and high heel shoes enters the centre of the arena. The distortion on the guitars throbs harder as she climbs up onto a tightrope and shimmies across. Her movements are sexy but definite. She pulls off her dress, her shoes, her wig, and with it all social constraints.

There is a lot of undressing and hair-undoing in this show. Performers constantly express an inability to deal with the mundane and routine. This is told through several languages, which you are not expected to fully comprehend. It is the single moment we are chasing not the detail and there are many many beautiful moments to choose from.

If a criticism had to be made, there is one point where there are four hula-hoop dancers on separate podiums. The movements are not choreographed or well thought out and from some of the performers really quite basic. It seems like they are merely a device, a distraction, while the apparatus is re-arranged. Whereas, later in the show having four aerial hoop performers at similar points framing the cyr wheel performer in the centre beautifully works to create symmetry and cohesion, this is the one part of the show that doesn’t seem to make sense.

Great use is made of the Roundhouse's central space.
Great use is made of the Roundhouse’s central space.

Aerial strap performer August Dakteris shared with us after the show how he became involved with No Fit Circus. Apparently he saw one of their productions five years ago and when the show finished he couldn’t leave without asking one of the crew what he needed to do to join the company. With no prior experience he started training. Five years after his first No Fit experience, Dakteris now has one of the main solo spots in Bianco and is living his dream.

This is a story of how a single show can inspire you to change the course of your whole life and we should be grateful if more shows could reach that place inside of ourselves. Utterly compelling, No Fit State Circus rightly claim their place as pioneers at the forefront of contemporary circus.

Bianco. Performed by No Fit State Circus. The Roundhouse, London NW1 8EH. £10-29.50. Until 27 April.

Photo credits: David Levene for the first and second picture and the cover image; Steve Tanner for the third picture.