The Udderbelly kicks off a season of circus with a highly competitive show.
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. 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.