To paraphrase Staged‘s strapline, everyone knows what circus is. Or do they?
Appearing at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, Staged by acclaimed circus company Circumference is a piece about balance, uncertainty and perception. Created and directed by Pablo Meneu, the show features a cast of three performers (the company’s artistic director Aislinn Mulligan with Gemma Palomar and Matt Smith) constantly trying to find an equilibrium. Their struggle is depicted aboard a structure specifically designed for this show, a large hanging platform rigged so that the performers can tip it by shifting their weight across it. The stage is never still, never stable, always in movement and the trio must work together at all time in order to achieve anything.
Because of the novelty of the prop itself, aspects of Staged feel very much like a work still in the research and development phase which is some way from becoming fully fledged. The performance doesn’t seem as smooth or seamless as it would be if the performers were using more traditional pieces of apparatus. However, the set up presents many possibilities and the rigging of the platform itself serves as an excellent metaphor for circus as a discipline, where performers must work together and trust each other at all times to create an ongoing and constantly evolving collaborative piece. In some ways the show is quite similar to He Who Falls by the Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois where a huge platform was either spinning, swinging or tipping on centre stage. However, the effect and experience He Who Falls achieved with a huge budget and a very technically complex apparatus is replicated to some extent by Staged with clever but simple setup, rigging and lighting.
Set to a beautiful soundtrack ranging from Clint Mansell to Aphex Twin, the musical landscape of the piece is as stark and stripped down as the visuals. Darkness falls on the space, two simple lights on the floor, the platform swings and tips. Mulligan throws herself off the platform and into the void. Smith catches her leaving Palomar alone on the platform. Smith throws Mulligan in the air as a light comes on only to highlight her flashing silhouette. The performers climb on top of one another. Everything here relies on trust and collaboration. At times, it seems like they are only doing simple, easy moves. But then the platform tips and we are reminded of the fragility of the whole endeavour.
With this latest creation, Circumference are taking circus to a further realm. It’s more than just physical prowess and exciting high energy entertainment, it asks very real questions about the very nature of the art form and its practitioners. It is not unusual to see this kind of introspective exploration in theatre or movies, but circus is only just catching up.
At heart, Staged is stripped down, complex and thought provoking. There are many angles to the piece and nothing is ever certain. At any given time the balance can tip, the performers can fall and there never is one unique reality.
Find out more about Circumference on their official website.