Friday, 28 August 2015

Total Theatre Awards 2015 at the Edinburgh Fringe: and the winners are...

Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus and the winner is...
... well actually, the winners are, because *breaking news* there were two entirely different productions that stood out to the judges as meriting an award.  

This year's joint winners for The Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus this year are:

The Ricochet Project's Smoke and Mirrors (left)  and Palestinian Circus Company B-Orders (right)

Photo: My own (left) and (right)
I was due to see B-Orders but the show was cancelled, so was glad to be able to read Kate Kavanagh's review in The Circus Diaries (click here)as well as Lucy Ribchester's interview with the Palestinian Circus Company for Fest (click here). 

Read Lyn Gardner's review of Smoke and Mirrors (click here), and for my response to the performance see previous post (click here).

Total Theatre Award for Physical/Visual Category
Gandini Juggling narrowly missed the award in the Physical/Visual Theatre category, which went to Al Seed's Oog - read Mary Brennan's review for The Herald (click here).

Total Theatre and The Place Award for Dance

Photo: Rolline Laporte
Finally, as someone who has recently taken up ice-skating, I would love to have seen free skating  Le Patin Libre's Vertical Influences and have been reading about them with interest - check out:
Lucy Ribchester writing in The List (click here)
Kelly Apter in The Scotsman (click here
Kate Kavanagh's review of their show last year "This is Contemporary Ice Skating" (click here)

Funnily enough, I had a message only this morning, from Rosie, a figure-skating ice guide who took me round Somerset House at Christmas. We also bonded over a shared love of storytelling - find her @minimakebelieve on Twitter.  I'm looking forward to catching up with Rosie at Streatham Ice Rink once the kids are back at school!

Here are the other awards - you can find out more at

Total Theatre Significant Contribution Award: Forced Contribution
Total Theatre Innovation, Experimentation and Playing With Form Joint Winners: Portraits in Motion and Can I Start Again Please
Total Theatre Emerging Artist/Company Award: Breach with their show The Beanfield

Congratulations to all the artists and companies involved, and to the judges and assessors - familiar with the short and long-lists, for circus at least, rather them than me. Great news, and exciting times ahead. 

Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus 2015 - The Shortlist

Coming down the stairs after Smoke and Mirrors (see previous post), I would, of all people, bump into Layla, my static trapeze teacher from the National Circus. Talk about upping the ante for next term! Layla Rosa is one of the three judges for Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus the others being the Roundhouse's circus producer Leila Jones, and Jackson Lane's artistic director Adrian Berry. 

This is the second year the award for circus is running, and the winner is announced today. Last year's winners were Barely Methodical Troupe with Bromance (click here).

Smoke and Mirrors is one of five contenders this year, the others being Elephant in the Room (click here), Ellie Dubois' Ringside; La Meute and B-Orders (see Also, in the category for Physical/Visual Theatre, is Gandini Juggling's  Ephemeral Architecture (click here) Good luck to all. 

And the winner is...

Highlights from the Fringe: Smoke and Mirrors


Have you heard of Pepper's ghost? It was a popular illusion in old carnival sideshows, dating back to the 1800s, using angled mirrors to conjure up the image of an ethereal spirit.  Alexander McQueen used the technique on the catwalk to render Kate Moss a will-o'-the-wisp trapped in a transparent pyramid (click here for the video), and I saw it recently at the V&A exhibition Savage Beauty (click here for the post). The aim of the installation was to provoke an emotional response, and I for one found the hologram a captivatingly poignant finale to the promenade through his work, summoning up McQueen, as his much as his muse. McQueen was a tortured soul always, striving to fashion beauty out of pain, and there is a sense of that longing for the unattainable in Smoke and Mirrors by the Ricochet Project, a partnership between Laura Stokes and Cohdi Harrell, over from New Mexico for their first Fringe. It was a hauntingly beautiful piece. 

Photo: Kate Russell
There was a lot of buzz about this show, and I was tremendously excited, having heard on the grapevine that it would feature the most exciting static trapeze work around. I arrived at Smoke and Mirrors a little deflated. I had just watched Wings in my heart (click here), two and a half hours' long, enchanting but exhausting. Then a chance conversation about further budget cuts to the arts left me despondent. There are so many vibrant companies, communities and theatres operating on a shoestring of a budget, using their own smoke and mirrors tricks to conjure up shows out of thin air, how will they survive? Smoke and mirrors acted like a defibrillator to revive my flagging heart.

It is a show diametrically opposed to Wings, an intimate Cirque de Soleil-style spectacle that carries a gentle, sincere message to follow your dreams and soar. Wings is a picture postcard from the rural idyll the Rigolo family inhabit in the Swiss mountains. Smoke and Mirrors is spartan in comparison: a couple of chairs, a trapeze and a rope. Its very minimalism suggestively ominous. We are presented with an urban hell of disconnected living where people's lives are driven by financial forecasts and meaningless statistics, enunciated by the voiceover at the beginning. Harrell and Stokes are dressed in suits, accessorised with briefcase and glasses, but very quickly this city apparel is stripped away to bare the humanity underneath. There is a sense of rediscovering our inner noble savage for, as an Orwellian (or Orson Wellesian?!) voiceover signals, society has taken a wrong turn, we human beings "think too much and feel too little". We have twisted ourselves in knots in the pursuit of happiness when really it's very simple: we just need to connect.

I still get goosebumps thinking of the sublime aerial acrobatics and choreography used to convey this. I love watching duets and the dynamic charge that generates, so watching Harrell and Stokes together on trapeze, and their synchronised handstands, was a complete joy. But I was also mesmerised by their separate turns. I found the drops on rope thrilling and the toe hangs excruciatingly lengthy. But more than the endurance of pain, and strength required, it was the extraordinary beauty of the forms  that Harrell and Stokes create with their mercurial movement that impressed me. The lighting and shadows gave their installation a Reubenesque richness, and I found the audio, the music and spoken word, the perfect frame. Together all these elements came together to create a performance of great physical depth and extraordinary power, that I feel privileged to have witnessed first-hand.

Smoke and Mirrors is at the Assembly Checkpoint 6pm for three more performances until 30 August.

Catch it while you can.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Highlights from The Fringe - Day 3: The Hogwallops

Meet The Hogwallops (Photo: Tristan Conor)

"Mum, can I have some Roald Dahl?" asked my daughter last night, at bedtime. Yes, I replied, as long as it's not The Twits. We opt instead for George's Marvellous Medicine. I love everything that Roald Dahl writes, I gobble up his words and feast on his moussaka lasagne*, but I spit out The Twits. My niece recently did the superb set design at the Royal Court for The Twits. Now that I would have taken the kids to see, but tickets sold out in a flash and I'm gutted to have missed the boat. "Don't worry Mum" reassured my son, "you never really liked The Twits anyway, did you?" You see? They all know. And yet here comes this show about a crazy loco family called The Hogwallops, that appears to take its cue from the Twits in the delight they take in playing slapstick pranks on each other, and it's one of my absolute highlights of The Fringe.

How to describe The Hogwallops? Mama mia!  They are loud, argumentative and they wreak merry havoc. They have that familiar Mediterranean vibe going on, with the grandfather at the head of a sprawling clan all living on top of each other in anarchic chaos. A crackling retro radio announces random facts about population over strains of blues, an accordian weaves in tango - I loved the musical score. They could well be the neighbours from hell, but they'd be riotous good fun with it. And however badly they may treat each other, underneath all that the gruffness and bickering is amore. 

Annabel Carberry
It's grandfather Pepino's birthday and he's not at all happy about getting any older.  Deaf to his daughter's pleas, the zimmerframe is constantly ignored, or dispatched with a vigorous kick, though used with relief as a support when he thinks his no-one is watching. A cake is being made in his honour. And a fabulous balancing act on the kitchen table ensues. As the daughter stands elevated on her father's shoulders sifting flour, the sequence stirs up memories of  food, love and laughter in NoFit State's Noodles (see Chapter 62) Mama's Kitchen (see Chapter 92), and The Party (Chapter 45). Circus is cooking.

As with any family worth its weight in salt, the kitchen is the hub of all social interaction and innovation: a washing line doubling as an aerial cloud swing narrowly, and expertly, skims the kitchen table; a zimmerframe, that suspended, serves as a novel trapeze; bodies become skipping ropes; eggs become juggling balls, or is that vice versa? The stunts they pull are staggering and I had vertigo watching the heady heights to which they soar, yet they are dished up with such ease, generating a great rapport with the audience that warms the cockles of your heart.  And there's a touch of romance too, a husband wooing his wife away from the chores strikes a chord, and I laughed at the hapless romantic grandson, with an air of the Paolo Nutini about him, attempting to work his way through a 50s-style voiceover of steps on "how to catch the woman of your dreams". You should meet Lindsay Benner** love, I think. 

The clutter, domesticity and clowning - it's home from home, really. Barely a week before going to Edinburgh, in the grip of a lively "discussion" one evening, I grabbed three eggs from the fridge and began to vent my frustration through juggling. Well, it beat lobbing them across the room, I suppose, and the comedy that followed was a great diffuser. The following day I came across the rubber versions in a toy shop and set up a replay.  I wasn't fooling anyone - what a twit! - "eggs don't have seams round the middle, Mum!", but it did make them laugh and we had a cracking good time. And so it felt appropriate that while Cinders here was having a blast up in Edinburgh, the last show I saw at The Fringe reminded me of my little pumpkins calling me home. Thank you Hogwallops. I look forward to seeing you again one day, and next time I'll bring the family too. 

Annabel Carberry, Massimiliano Rossetti, Moira Morrison, Thibaut Lezervant, Roisin Morris, Eduardo Riciardelli

The Hogwallops have three performances left at the Circus Hub in The Meadows - 11.25am.
Next stop Circomedia in Bristol in October.

* See Roald Dahl's Cookbook by Felicity (Liccy) and Roald Dahl
** Another highlight of The Fringe - see Lindsay Benner's Book of Love (click here)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Highlights from The Fringe - Day 2: Pole

In the five minutes it took me to run from Velvet at The Famous Spiegeltent (see previous post) back to my hotel I was a sopping, bedraggled mess. I had quarter of an hour to strip off, wring out, dry and reapply and then turn heel to Cowgate’s Underbelly, and the venue Dehli Belly, to see Bent Theatre Company’s Pole. The sensible thing to do would have been to call it a night there and then, and melt into a nice, hot bath. But actually, as I have just read in Ideapod ( - intelligent people have one thing in common...) the smart money is on the night owls. What a hoot. 

Siren lights of Underbelly's Beer Garden

Unlike the the rain. The rain was shedding it down as I squelched and squirched my way up the Mound. Again. An old friend of mine, Jane, arrived, like me, in the nick of time, and was a sight for sore eyes. Weaving our way through the dense mass of bodies at Underbelly, I was in half a mind to sod the play and have a decent catch up over a drink instead. Did I really need to see an educational piece of verbatim theatre exploring the attitudes and reality of Pole when I've been living it for the past couple of years? Well, yes actually. I thought it was important to witness a show that may slip under many people's radar, certainly in the circus world, and report back. The thing is, in circus you have Chinese pole. A pole generally covered in rubber, requiring shoes and layers of clothing to protect a body as much as possible from friction burns. It still hurts, I hear, but you are not flayed alive. Strip Chinese pole, of its prefix and rubber, and you are left with a smooth metal pole requiring minimal clothing to maximise skin exposure, and so grip. Here endeth the lesson.

Lyndal Marwick

As to the show, I was surprised by what I found. Yes, it does have a message to get across, but it is loads of fun. The low ceiling and dungeonesque space gave barely enough room to swing a cat, let alone allow three women to swing on the poles erected, but Amy Bellwood, Anais Alvarado and Lyndal Marwick managed a good few turns and inversions, and looked decidedly pro. Actually, it turns out that one of them, Lyndal, is semi-professional, winning her first pole competition recently, an event that was compered by Sam King (click here for my post on Pole in the Park). The show itself was an intelligent, hilarious and moving exposition of the pole scene in all its incarnations, though while it touched on the wide variety of shapes, sizes and skill sets you get in an average pole class, Amy, Anais and Lyndal are all young, slim, beautiful and very talentedAny guys who hadn't read the small print and were coming for some late night titillation must have thought they struck gold. And the girls play on that with a touch of bump and grind in heels to get the show going, before they pulled the rug from underneath.

Anais played the City girl-next-door, with her own way of unwinding at home after a long day at work and enjoying the shapes she can make with her body; Lyndal is the sporty polefit instructor from Oz and up for a challenge whose accent lets her get away with some hilariously frank, and grotesque observations; Amy is "a natural", a dancer who came to pole through stripping and is an unapologetic tease. For each, in their own way, the practice of pole is empowering. This being verbatim theatre, they are presumably using the words and stories of actual women, with some artistic licence, and their stories, told with warmth and humour, ring true. Where it loses me slightly is when the girls merge into new characters, just as we've been getting a handle on the old ones.  

Anais is now a stripper. Amy turns into an undercover agent exposing mistreatment and offering assistance to young girls forced into the underbelly of London sex clubs, where they are pretty much chained to the pole. The descriptions are harrowing. You get the whole raw, bloody deal as Lyndal becomes a one of the victims, and it's not pretty. But there is a way out, and hope. The uplifting finale is a gracefully choreographed sequence in which the three take to the poles in white dresses, a redress of sexuality and a reclamation of the purity of lines in pole aesthetics. Beautiful in its simplicity.  

A percentage of Pole ticket sales are going to Eaves Charity, a London based charity that helps female victims of sex trafficking. To learn more about their work see

Highlights from the Fringe: Day 2 - Velvet

After Hitch! (see previous post) the friends I was with were moving onto a music launch and we arranged to meet up again at midnight at Underbelly Cowgate for Pole (post to follow). La Clique and The Famous Spiegeltent's cabaret show Velvet had been recommended to me by a couple of circus friends up there, so I decided to leg it across town and see if I could get in. As I approached the entrance my chances didn’t look good. The show had already started, almost half an hour ago, and there were girls on the door, the type who always seem to shower my other half with smiles while drowning me in the proverbial ice bucket. And this time I was on my own.

As predicted, a polite and tentative enquiry invited an immediate and negative response. But a year training in circus has taught me not to give up so easily, while an evening at Hitch! steeled my resolve, and either one of the girls alerted back-up, or the determination in my voice carried, as out of nowhere a male bouncer materialised, sold me a ticket and ushered me in.  It was a win-win situation for us all - I got to see the show, and they got my business and undying gratitude. 

Standing room only gave me a clear view of the stage. I grabbed a drink at the bar, established the policy on taking photos (“well, we’ve never heard anything to say you can’t”) and relaxed into the evening ahead, still pinching myself, Alice in this Wonderland of “disco delirium”. Here I was in Edinburgh on Saturday night with one of the most lively, upbeat audiences in town simply bent on having a cracking evening out while thumpingly good tracks being belted out.

Hoops of Fun
The Human Slinky
The evening was styled on 70s disco, inspired by Studio 54, a club renowned for hedonistic orgies of fun where anything and everyone goes, full of glitter and colour, just the ticket to revive this flagging magpie here. I caught the end of some great hand-balancing, then saw Craig “The Incredible Hula Boy” Reid, a legend in certain circles, especially when they light up with every colour under the sun and he morphs into  regular rainbow human slinky, single-handedly carrying the act into the air. I marvelled at the magnetic personality, and mahogany charms, of Ms Perle Noire, never have I seen a pair of pasties bounce with such glorious joie de vivre. The exquisite female aerialist working the hoop in Louboutins, later donning a gimp mask and pvc, to dominate a sleek duet on chains, was obviously a crowd-pleaser, while I’ll admit a soft spot for the strikingly sexy soloist on straps set to the ultimate disco anthem “It’s Raining Men”. Pepped up on Motown and Mojo, I stepped out into the streets to find the heavens opened, like a mirror to my sequinned soul. God bless Mother Nature, she's a single woman too …

Thanks La Clique! 

Tickets still available for tonight (Wednesday) and Saturday 30 August

Circus and cabaret  performers:
Craig Reid - Hula hoop
Stephen Williams - Aerial (Straps and Chains)
Perle Noire - Queen of Burlesque
Mirko Köckenberger - Handstands
Emma Goh - Aerial (Hoop, Chains, Rope)

Musical director: Joe Accaria

Marcia Hines
Brendan Maclean 

Backing vocals and dancers:
Chaska Halliday
Rechelle Mansour

Highlights from the Fringe - Day 2: Hitch!

Next on the menu at Big Sexy Circus City in the intimacy of the smaller big top was Hitch! by Cardiff-based Mary Bijou Cabaret and Social Club, a collective of cabaret and circus artists founded by Anna Sandreuter and George Orange. I had last seen them both in Crashmat Collective (Chapter 49 - click here)  at The Albany last Autumn and they were terrific, so, as something of a film noir junkie myself, had been dying to see them in this show, an immersive promenade through the work of Alfred Hitchcock. And my goodness, what these guys get up with a shower curtain is worth the ticket alone. 

Vertigo watching Ellis Grover at the Big Sexy Circus City
Having had a break from Circus City after Wings (see previous post), I arrived back in the nick of time to find a tightwire artist, Ellis Grover, climbing the guiding rope up to the top of larger marquee. Talk about Vertigo. Quite extraordinary. The suspense was intents. I met up with a couple of friends and as we walked in George, the compere for the evening, on the meet and greet, murmured to be careful where we sit. Now, I'm not exactly shy and retiring, still, I experienced a rather enjoyable frisson of butterflies. As the show began there was an announcement: one of the performers had sustained an injury and there would be a change to the programme this evening. The delivery was so deadpan you had to wonder if that wasn't simply part of a darkly humoured wind-up, to suggest menace and an unstable environment. I observed George's arm in a sling. "It's not been a very good week" he demured. Kate McWilliams then emerged doing a great turn on Chinese pole as Tippi Hedrun, black feathers flying in all directions as she rid herself of The Birds. George then reappeared from behind the screen in a wheel chair, now with a broken leg in plaster to boot. "Seriously, this week, is going from bad to worse" he quipped.

Tom Ball teeters on the brink
Photo: Tom Beardshaw
I love watching George in action because he is brilliantly funny, a consummate clown with a dry wit, quick draw repartee and debonair style so well-suited (literally) to Hitch! As he began to weave a narrative from the audience, inviting us to open up to our deepest fears, the random interruption by an acutely irritating heckler at the back was dealt with suavely and adroitly, before the rest of us were tempted to lynch the wee bugger, and he transformed the potential car wreck of a situation into its own dark comedy.  A class act. Anna took to the floor next, shimmying in sequins through a number of hula-hoops with a superb black widow, ramping up her Germanic accent to comic effect in act that had us all in stitches. It was great to see Tom Ball again, most recently in Silver Lining Company and Weighting (click on show names for corresponding posts), in an altogether more grimly determined incarnation, teetering on the brink, and a man with a gun not to be crossed.  The omnipresent Mrs Danvers hovering in the background, singing, was a neat touch and I enjoyed the music in general, especially the North by North West ballad. One of my favourite moments was Joe Wild lip-synching Kim Novak in interview about Hitchcock and the way he manipulated, controlled and shaped her identity, while stripping and redressing as the ice cool Hitchcock blonde. Joined then by two more Blondes (George and Tom) for a bit of light relief, we couldn’t help but observe that these ladies have damn fine legs. 

As for the final scene in which a doubled-up suspended transparent shower curtain resulted in a  fabulously innovative acro-aerial sequence, well you’d be Pyscho to miss it.

Hitch! is on at Big Sexy Circus City 8pm Tues-Sun and 2.30pm Fri-Sun.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe - Day 2: Wings In My Heart

Big Sexy Circus City is new to the circus landscape, and if you find the name off-putting, just crop it to Circus City and hope that it will catch on. Located over in Fountainbridge it is worth the trek, host to two big tops, a kids-friendly practice zone, free events, a buskers amphitheatre and circus everywhere.

First up in my double bill of shows there was Rigolo's Wings In My Heart. A show I would have missed but for Kate Kavanagh's persuasive enthusiasm in The Circus Diaries (click here). At two and a half hours long, Wings In My Heart is double the length of time of any other circus show, and would take a big chunk of time (on backless benches) out of a whistestop tour. When I noticed it in the listings, the title standing out on a sea of pink struck me as a bit too sweet and earnest, but that's a bit rich coming from someone who writes under the moniker "Lucy Loves Circus", and then registering the show was Swiss, like my husband, on its first tour ever to the UK, I made a further allowance.

Maybe I had also been a little jaded due to lack of sleep, but spending a wonderful Saturday morning catching up with Edinburgh's Lucy Ribchester totally revived me, as did those brownies from Woods Brownie co. (google them!) served up at the Herald Angel awards (click here) ... stem ginger and cardamon, morello cherries and almond, salted caramel - even writing the words now, my mouth begins to salivate again. Lucy is author of "The Hourglass Factory" (see Chapter 65 and Chapter 68), who reviews circus for the List (, and the Fest (, and had also rated Wings In My Heart (click here).

What I found was a show that sparkles like an exquisite Cirque de Soleil gem, but on a more intimate setting. It reads like a letter of love from a parent to their child - words of wisdom written by a quill are magically appear onto the curtains either side, introducing each act - urging them to take flight, and is very much a family show in every sense.  Rigolo is the show name of husband and wife team and the show's creative motors Lena Roth and Maedir Eugster. It means "funny" in French, so I was surprised to learn this was actually a Swiss-German venture. I'm with Lucy Ribchester on not wanting to spoil the spectacular elemental opening to the show, but if you aren't making it to Edinburgh, check out the video at the end. Every act in the show was an articulation of physical poetry - do read all about it in The Circus Diaries (click here, again!) and there was such imagination behind the apparatus, and beauty in the execution, that my heart really did soar.

Marula Eugster performs the Sanddorn balancing act
The music was great too, and the superb drumming caught my pulse. So much so that I made a point of chatting to Julius, the drummer, later. I was interested to hear that his father, Rüdiger Oppermann, was the music director of the score I had so enjoyed, and that he was also the harpist pictured on the billboard. I thought of my own harp at home with a pang, and renewed my resolution to carve out a space for practice once the kids go back to school in September. But I digress. Back to the show, it is Maedir who invented the legendary Sanddorn balancing act (pictured), where balance hangs by a feather, that was an audible breath-taking finale. Elder daughter Lara now performs the act in Cirque de Soleil's Amaluna, while younger daughter Marula performs it here in Wings. Familiar with the video that has circulated as a YouTube sensation (click here), I was unaware of the history. The mystical overtones to Marula's preparation for the act, kneeling, for what seemed like an aeon, under a steady shower of sand like Our Lady of the Desert, I was not surprised to learn that Lara had been schooled in Turkey in the Sufi tradition of the dance of the whirling dervish. The act gave me goosebumps, and was one of the highlights and privileges of the Fringe.

Suren Bozyan, Julius Oppermann, Danial Borak, Jennie Ritchie, Kemal Dempster, Karyna Konchakivska, Marula Eugster

Spoiler alert: only watch this if you can't make the show!
Wings In My Heart 2.30pm and 8pm at Big Sexy Circus City

Monday, 24 August 2015

Highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe - Day 1: Barbu


After Elephant in the Room, it was time to unwind with Montreal-based Cirque Alfonse's Barbu: Electro trad cabaret, a show that headlined Donald Hutera's circus round-up in The Times. A series of pranks, simple clowning around and highly skilled tricks. Not rocket science. Familiar with the  great reception of their last show Timber! on the Southbank, for me these guys are the lumberjacks of the circus world, delivering comedy straight up, along with a (much appreciated) sambuca shot and raffle ticket, in a horny, carny fin-de-siecle sideshow vein.

I missed the very beginning where they are apparently roller-skating in a circle holding onto each other's beards, but I did see a girl, I think, being flung around by the ankles - seems to be a recurrent theme, to which I'll return later. I take my seat. I saw a ball being bounced on a bearded head, that reminded me of a circus seal, and some neat club juggling follows. There was some brilliant hand to hand balancing and teeterboard tricks, and I loved the guy in the giant glitter ball doing a great Cyr wheel routine. I also liked the comedy of the pseudo-sanddorn routine where a guy is balancing golf sticks, only for them to be knocked out of his hand each time he makes any real progress. In the background two giant screens show elements of Canada - presumably - sheaves of wheat, beehives, flowers.

As I understand it the electro refers to the show's music score, and for me watching their female drummer, Josianne Laporte, thrashing away was a real highlight. Maybe confusing the reputation slightly with La Meute, I assumed this was a circus of men and hadn't expected to see any female circus performers. There are two in the cast, who come across as girls with attitude, strong enough to lie on a bed of nails as a human chopping block and spin with superhuman speed on an aerial hoop, but some have argued they are treated simply accessories. Are they? I am well aware that Cirque Alfonse pulls no punches in its determination not to bow to prissy political correctness, but I for one am glad they axed the part of the show where the girls mud wrestle while a third whips them on. A (male) friend of mine rang me afterwards to say that while he enjoyed the show overall, he was disturbed by the way one of the girls was bundled like a piece of meat into the box for the old school (trad) disappearing girl routine. She emerged later wearing little more than a beard and a pair of pasties, though for me that was an ironic nod to hirsute lady of yore and in keeping with the cabaret element and the (side)show.

I have to say I did not enjoy watching the arrogant bearded guru "Lukas Ze Mentaliste",  "get what's coming to him" rigged up in a punching bag as a latter day stocks and pie magnet, but then as someone who'll happily take aim at the Dads volunteering as targets at the local school fair, am I not being a bit of a wet sponge here myself? At the end of the day, I really enjoyed Barbu - its Québecois folk music and wide variety of acts, with interesting idiosyncratic twists. Anarchic, irreverant, hairy, lairy fun.

See for yourself: 9.50pm at Underbelly's Circus Hub The Meadows. Click here for tickets

Do check out Donald Hutera's circus round up if you subscribe to The Times on-line - it contains fascinating information on the background to Cirque Alfonse:

Highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe - Day 1: Elephant in the Room

Vive le fringe!* I may have missed La Meute and Clément Dazin's Bruit de Couloir (see previous post) but there was still a ton of francophone circus to discover. First of my double-bill on Friday night was Cirque Le Roux' The Elephant in the Room, which is one of the five circus acts to be short-listed for the Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Circus Award** this year.
Set in the more intimate of the two tents at the Circus Hub, where I had earlier seen Bromance (see previous post), Cirque Le Roux invited us to step back in time to the heavily stylised 1930s world of silent comedy and film noir. Credits roll, projected on the back wall, introducing us to the cast. Enter Miss Betty (Lolita Costet), grande dame of the chateau, though evidently barely reconciled to her newly married title of Mme Barick. Dressed in a bridal outfit with a bouquet tinged with a grey decay, she has an air of Miss Havisham crossed with Lucretia Borgia as she throws back her head and gives a malevolent cackle, wielding a vial of poison. Her husband John Barick (Yannick Thomas) is clearly putty in her hands, though not such a walk over when it comes to the antics of their deftly bumbling butler le Jeune Bouchon (Grégory Arsenal) - literally the Young Cork, part Harold Lloyd, you get the drift. Their relationship has something of the dynamic of Manuel and Basic Fawlty about it, though the slapstick acrobatics take it to a whole new level. Finally meet the anglophone Mr Chance (Philip Rosenberg), an enigmatic Great Gatsby of a character meets An Inspector Calls, keen to emphasise his popularity with the ladies as a mark of social standing, while secretly fond(ling) of le Jeune Bouchon. Was this layered sexuality meant to be the Elephant in the Room, I wondered? 

I loved the monochromatic set and costume design: the oil paintings on the wall of the smoking room that changed with the narrative, the divan that became a surreal piece of circus apparatus. As Miss Betty squeezed through its back to slip away from the clutches of Mr Chance, he was left holding just a leg, actually a mannequin's limb that screwed in to the end of the couch to become literally a leg up (pictured). A corridor of lampshades dropped down from the rigging at one point to create a passage for a touching handstand duet between Mr Chance and le Jeune Bouchon. The physical contrast between the tiny (yet steely) Miss Betty and her giant of a husband made their daring duos all the more dramatic.  I'm just giving a flavour here as there was so many diverse elements to take in delivered with phenomenal energy. Basically the show was a heady mix of a farcical Christie whodunnit (or willshegettachance?) theatre crossed with physical theatre of acrobatics, tap-dancing, a swing of bodies, tumbles in the air, an astounding group routine on Chinese pole, and that four-high human ladder. Seat allocation is only in the larger tent, so it was by chance I ended up sitting on the front row between experienced circus performers, and I felt something of an ingenue letting out gasps of astonishment, hands clasped or clamped over my dropped jaw, but the tricks held me in thrall and left me reeling.  Hats off. Chapeau. 

Elephant in the Room is on at 8.35pm at the Circus Hub, Underbelly in The Meadows (Venue 360).

*Vive le fringe! is actually the motif of the events at the Institut français d'Écosse, spreading the love  of all things French through Scotland since 1964. It is hosting five fringe events this year including Bruit de Couloir and L'Enfant qui..., also highly recommended. Find out more at their website (click here) and see trailer below:

**Shortlist for the Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Circus award are:

- The Ricochet Project's Smoke&Mirrors,
- Ellie Dubois' Ringside, 
- Palestinian circus company B-Orders
- La Meute
And in the physical/visual category: Gandini Juggling's 4x4 Ephemeral Architectures

Highlights from Edinburgh Fringe - Day 1: Book of Love and Bromance

Into the Meadows: Circus This Way

“Right, here's the deal - I'll look after the kids while you go to the Fringe, but you get all the writing up done before you come home. Deal?"

The devil of a bargain. I smiled sweetly and surreptitiously moved my return flight booking from crack of dawn to late afternoon, and here I am at Edinburgh airport on Sunday with ten shows still to get through and countless stories to weave into the mix. Thank you Easyjet for delaying my flight by an hour, still, if you had just given me the heads up an hour earlier I could have made it to Clément Dazin's Bruit de Couloir, merde! See Lucy Ribchester's review for The List on this "eloquent meditation on life": and if you are still in Edinburgh do go and see him.

Lindsay Benner: Book of Love
Girl on fire: deserves a warm welcome
Now, though, it's time to rewind to Friday afternoon, newly arrived in Edinburgh, two shows under my belt. Next up was was Lindsay Benner’s Book of Love at Venue 88, aka Just the Tonic at The Caves. I should have being going to the much feted La Meute, a show that The Circus Diaries' Kate Kavanagh, familiar with my blog and my tastes, assured me was right up my street (a wolfish pack of sexy French male acrobats for Petit Capuchon Rouge here), but here’s the thing: Lindsay is a friend of an old university friend, over here from Chicago for her very first Edinburgh Fringe. When I found out that to boot she was both comedienne and juggler, think Lucille Ball meets Charlie Chaplin, I was sold. I was also keen to explore spaces beyond Underbelly's Circus Hub, this is The Fringe, after all. Venue 88 is an intimate cavern on the first floor with a stage at the end, think the Vaults.  I loved it instantly. Lindsay was terrific, sporting the 50s chic, she had a presence and charisma that snapped the audience into shape in an instant. I was whipped up in front of the audience with a partner for a trick involving  pingpong balls (what happens on stage, remains on stage), while another guy was her date for the evening as she worked through chapter by chapter of her Book of Love. Juggling all sorts of domestic utensils with an edge, to a great retro soundtrack, Lindsay served up course after course of comedy with flair, panache and supreme confidence.  Check her out.

Afterwards, I raced back to the Circus Hub for Barely Methodical Troupe's (BMT) Bromance. Finally. Winner of last year's Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award of Circus at the Edinburgh Fringe, among a whole host of plaudits, these guys have burst onto the scene. One of my sisters booked in to see Bromance at The Fringe on Donald Hutera's recommendation in The Times, and my visible disappointment, wistfulness and FOMO prompted my other half to volunteer to look after the kids to let me go up to the Fringe as well, on the aforementioned condition. So Thank You.

Bromance was back at the Circus Hub and in the smaller of the two tents, packed to the rafters. I was pretty much the last in, but the view from anywhere in that tent is great and the atmosphere was electric, charged with expectation. BMT comprises Beren D'Amico, Charlie Wheeler and Louis Gift. Graduates of Circus Space (National Centre for Circus Arts), the fact that they are great mates, whose friendship has been cemented by training together, where trust and awareness of each other's moods, actions and reactions is crucial, shines through. I defy anyone to see this show and not be immediately won over by their characters as much as their circus skills.  I laughed long and hard at their clowning around with highly skilled acrobatics and was touched by the moments when they moved the game onto another level, exploring the balancing act of triangles, the one who gets left out, the pain of friends aren't there to catch your fall. The hand to hand work was not only staggering, but for the first time you are prompted to consider the feelings of the base, Louis, the unsung hero of the act as the flier, Beren, swoops away with the glory. Cyr wheel is a particular love of mine. I have never (yet) had any desire to learn it, but find it mesmerising to watch, and to see Charlie in action exceeded all expectations.

From left: BMT's Charlie, Louis & Beren

Time spun by too quickly and suddenly the house was on its feet with a standing ovation. Yet that was not the end. It turned out that during the performance an earlier injury Beren had sustained had prevented him continuing with the second half. They didn't need to explain that. I had a sense something was missing, from having read so many reviews in the past - this time last year in The Circus Diaries for instance ( - click here), yet I would have left there elated with what I'd seen, and I'm sure the majority of the audience would have left none the wiser. But these guys are the real deal - they have a story to tell and it matters to them that their public have the full picture. Beren's acute disappointment, and Charlie and Louis' concern for him, became ours. That these guys have been working on this show that relentlessly pushes physical boundaries for a year now, and the courage and concentration to deliver it with such ease and authenticity, hit home. Cue second standing ovation and thunderous applause that raised the roof. Congrats guys and wishing you well.

Clément Dazin Bruit de Couloir 3pm: Institute français d'Ecosse (Venue 134) click here for tickets
Lindsay Benner's Book of Love 4.45pm: Just the Tonic at The Caves (Venue 88) click tickets
BMT's Bromance 6.25pm: Underbelly's Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360) click tickets

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe - Day 1: Ockham's Razor and Cirk La Putyka

Ockham's Razor apres-show
Right, I'm on festival time here in Edinburgh. That means borrowed time. Half an hour to catch up on a full-on day and six shows back to back. It will be raw, rough and messy, though hopefully legible. This is my first Edinburgh Fringe, and what a great year to start on. Last year saw the creation of the Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus, won by Barely Methodical Troupe's Bromance, and the festival has always had circus shows, often located in The Meadows, this is the first year of Underbelly's bespoke Circus Hub. A good place to start then, and I made it just in time for curtain up on Ockahm's Razor's double bill ARC & Every Action... 

What an auspicious beginning. In ARC, three characters, a man and two women, are shipwrecked on a suspended metal raft. We watch the relationships between them ebb and flow like the tide, as child's play gives way to adult tensions, highly charged. As the triangle tips, so too does the raft, now suspended on two central points rather than four corners. The manoeuvring of the destabilising apparatus reflected the delicate  work required to recover balance in the relationships. It was beautiful, sexy and fluid. In the second half Every Action... four characters come together, each sitting on a box of a different size that connote a certain pecking order, soon to be jumbled up. There is a rope threaded through a pulley and they balance each other out - as one pulls on one side, the other is lifted - in this game of cause and effect, all of us impact each other's actions. The rope sequences were stunning to watch and inventive. At one point, the end of the rope being pulled is missed and it de-threaded. Having been told by one of the ushers that the rigging columns would be in use during the show, I assumed that the moment one of the cast scales up to reloop the rope was actually part of the narrative. Actually, it wasn't, but for me, along with rest of the audience, it gave a fascinating depth to the show to get a glimpse of the work that goes on behind the scenes.  If you are up in Edinburgh, please go see it. Take the family. Go alone. It's a fantastic show and has a wonderful rapport with the audience. 

Next up in the Circus Hub was Cirk La Putyka's Dolls. A dark, raw show which had the most flip-taking duet on static trapeze that I could watch again and again, and a superb twist on a acrobalance duet where two hands are bandaged into one arm. I also enjoyed the choreography of the puppet sequence - one performer strung out between the rest. There was comedy and laughs with a Pinteresque menance constantly bubbling underneath exploding at points into violence.  Check out The Circus Diaries review and interview with director Rosislav Novák: - click here.

Later that afternoon I bumped into the guys from Ockham's Razor outside (pictured), fooling around with ad-lib acrobatics on a pole - jeez, do they ever stop I wondered? Not for this month at least!

Ockham's Razor ARC & Every Action... 1.25pm: Underbelly's Circus Hub (Venue 360) click here for tickets
Cirq La Putyka's Dolls 3.25pm: Underbelly's Circus Hub (Venue 360) click here

DAY 1 to follow:

Lindsay Benner - Book of Love
Barely Methodical Troupe - Bromance
Cirque Le Roux - Elephant in the Room
Cirque Alfonse - Barbu

Monday, 17 August 2015

Chapter 100: Circumference: Shelter Me

"Luce, there's this amazing show in Farringdon, you would love ... and it's got circus in!" 

Back in early summer there was the most extraordinary show. If you are on any form of social media with me you will have heard the buzz about Shelter Me - an extraordinary interactive promenade through the old Guardian and Observer offices, now home to Theatre Delicatessen, created by experimental circus theatre company Circumference. It was a show that, as well as the regular circus-savvy audience, attracted a cross-section of people who wouldn't bill themselves as such. Like my friend from the above quote - he had been dragged along on a City work night out and had come out raving. 

I had first come across Circumference this time last year, when Shelter Me was a work in progress, in Transmission at Jacksons Lane, where space is given to companies for a week long residency over summer with a public sharing at the end. I then saw another incarnation in a scratch night at Circus Space (National Centre for Circus Arts), and again at the Canvas market-place in April. Each time I came away excited not only by their superb technical skills as performers, and the environment of intimacy, trust and play created, but the way Circumference explored the alienating impact of social media while harnessing technology to enhance audience connection. The production was a sell-out hit and I managed to secure tickets in the final week of the extended run, only it would be the day of a tube strike. Gah! Riding pillion on my husband's vespa through rush hour London, weaving through jay walkers and holding my breath as we squeezed through double decker sandwiches I felt transported back to the world of Frogger - that 80s computer game - both jumpy and serenely confident in my driver.  Intimacy. Trust. Connection. Play. We started ahead of schedule. Circus everywhere. 

Arriving in Farringdon, we met up with Rachael, who days earlier, had been my partner-in-crime at The Fire School (see Chapter 88: Playing with Fire), and a whole surprise of familiar faces in the queue and beyond. On an evening that centres around building bridges with others, it was a joy to find some already in place over the past year on this circus journey. And Circumference is pivotal. Our experience of the evening was guided through the use of mobile phones. We were each paired up with a random buddy via text - I lucked out with Jo ("I'm in a beach ball stripy dress" and "Caught in a hula hoop upstairs" came my reply) - and had a chance to soak up the atmosphere with a drink from the bar before the performance began. The action began in the old canteen where we have all been mingling. Acrobalance sequences and exercises in trust as the perfomers take turns to fall from window ledges and leap from balconies into the outstretched hands of the support team below, part company, part audience. We watched through the windows as outside Aislinn and Nich perform a poignant duet on Chinese pole atop a caravan. Texts inform us that their relationship has fallen apart, a narrative that has moved on from the work in progress the year before where they were at a crossroads, and I realised how much I had been rooting for them. Still, we are reassured, they are friends and are optimistic for the future.

We moved further into the building. I bumped into my other half, and, reunited for a moment, threading through a maze of gauze curtains invited a game of hide-and-seek and a lovers' kiss. Then we split, and I discovered Nich and Helena performing an acrobalance sequence exploring the constraints of space (and relationships?) in a box of a room. One of the walls then became a cinema of Nich's life as we all squeezed in for the sharing. Ellie Rose played ethereal notes at a piano, with a haunting voice around the corner, Aislinn in a kitchenette had a team effort going in a hunt for the coffee, and, once assembled, racing upstairs after a white rabbit and toasting with a coffee shot. Back downstairs, we are again informed by text of Helena's long-distance relationship. Hula-hoops that are normally such light-hearted fun, set to upbeat disco, became accessories spinning a moving narrative of the end of the affair.  Then, to find Aislinn swanning on silks in another haze of space, was simply enchanting. When not performing themselves, the cast was around to gently indicate the right direction, and for me that was one of the most touching elements.

Later we formed a human corridor while a German wheel powered up and down the corridor, the performers waiting as it rolled over them without moving a muscle in an exercise of control, utter confidence and trust. To later pass a battered phone made me think of fragmented lives and broken connections that many suffer. We need to reach out more. Access all areas. And that's what circus does. Hooked up with our buddies again, we were issued headphones and had our own elevator music in the service lift. Emerging from the belly of the building, we processed up stairs as a human chain, holding hands, to a staggering skyline silhouetted against the setting sun. The photos of the aerial sequence on the rooftop speak for themselves - joyous, uplifting, spectacular, unifying experience.   Our spirits took flight and we left on a high.

Cast and creators: 
Aislinn Mulligan
Helena Reynolds
Nich Galzin 
Pablo Meneu
Ellie Rose Rushbridge

For full listing of creative team and video trailer, click here: