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:

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