Sunday, 31 July 2016

Chapter 154: Sean Kempton and Stuff

Photo credit: Arturo Franceschi 

Funny, and beautiful, the random conversations that come up. Take yesterday, with the supermarket delivery man. I'd never met him before, but it was a lazy summer evening and, with time on our hands, we got chatting. Turns he happens to share a birthday with my son, and has kids of his own. We ended up talking about life and love, and his youngest, born with in a hair's breadth of his birthday too. 

"He's not my child, you understand, but I love him as if he were, and when my pension came in I got him a Junior Gunners season ticket to the Reds. We've gone to every single match together ever since."

What a Dad. My own used to tell me regularly to go back to the orphanage where I belonged. To be fair, this was normally when I'd go in and jump on their bed first thing in the morning... Dad is a regular joker, born on April's Fool, so I was totally at home this year spending Father's Day this year watching another clown in action - Sean Kempton in his one man show Stuff. This is a show that explores love, drawing on experience of all sorts, including that of Sean's as a father himself. The show was part of the London Clown Festival (click here), the first such festival in the UK and "barely a red nose in sight". This was a festival celebrating contemporary clowning - that is to say unconventional physical comedy. (If you're looking for a convention, check out the Clowns Annual Church Service in honour of Joseph Grimaldi every February - click here). 

Sean Kempton is a natural clown. A jester who can get away with serving up home-truths by virtue of being immensely likeable and knowing his audience. Originally an actor, Sean moved into the world of circus when he was selected to train up as one of the acrobats for the Millennium Dome extravaganza, jumping off pillars 150 feet in the air. So he knows about taking the plunge as he takes his new show to the Edinburgh Fringe this month. Sean was one of the key members of the Generating Company, a touring circus company that puts on large-scale events around the world and which was at the forefront of the UK circus scene moving into the 21st Century. Since then he has been lead clown for a number of years in Cirque de Soleil shows like Kooza, Quidam and Varekei, and was on stage in Vegas with epic life-aquatic Dragone show "Le Rêve". In short, he's a bit of a legend.

Stuff is a show on a much more intimate scale than any Cirque production. It is a responsive, dynamic piece in which Sean uses the audience to weave together a tapestry of connections, exploring what binds us together, while in one brutal moment he takes the stage alone to demonstrate what happens to a body when a heart is ripped apart. 

The opening track summed up the vibe of the show for me: Amélie accordion crossed with Marc Almond-style lyricism conjured up love in all its kookiness, vulnerability and wonder. The rest of the show used a fabulously eclectic soundtrack that frames each scene, and we were taken on an emotional journey from the birth of love in a heartbeat to its development, and a look at the science of it all. Sean is a brilliant physical comedian. Without needing to say a word, he communicated all the awkwardness and hilarity of love, embracing those slapstick moments of failure and rejection when you slam again, and again, into an unresponsive, impervious brick wall, as well as the soaring points when you feel at one with the universe.

Sean explored how love makes you feel, and what it represents, through the use of three verbatim testimonies from his daughter aged 6, a young woman in her 20s, and an octogenarian lady. They are each a heart-warming, frank and honest response to gentle, respectful prompts. The audience gets similar treatment. Even a closest exhibitionist such as myself shudders at the words "audience participation". Often on the cabaret and fringe circuit that can be brutal. Not here. Here, the name of the game is connection, not humiliation. Ultimately the only risk is carried by Sean, as inviting an audience member into the game exposed him to the possibility of rejection. But as with love, when you take that leap, it can lead to the most beautiful of moments and there was a lot of fun in the play that brought the audience together.
What is love? Love is... Stuff.

Stuff is at the Assembly George Square, Omnitorium, 4-29 August 2016 (not 15th). 4.30pm. Running time: 1 hour.
Word to the wise: you'd do well to sit in the front row and make plenty of eye contact. Trust me...

Tickets: (click here)

Friday, 29 July 2016

Chapter 153: A tease of pictures and a pat on the... Ssshhh!

Presenting a tease of images from our circus cabaret at Postcards Festival, Jacksons Lane (click here) and a pat on the ... Ssshhh! 
Photo credits: Shauna Summers (Instagram: @shaunasummers_)

Huge 👏🏼 to @seankempton @MrDannyAsh @Michaelaoconno6
 @MollyOrangeST @brettrosengreen @Red_Sarah @HamishTj et al in @Lucylovescircus' #ssshhh!
The Circus Diaries @CircusDiaries

went to @jacksons_lane last night to see @Lucylovescircus #Ssshhh absolutely insane evening def want to see more!!!
Fran Kate @frannerkate

What wonderfully skilled and weird acts last night @jacksons_lane during #Ssshhh curated by @Lucylovescircus for #Postcards16.
Two Tongue Theatre @2tonguetheatre

Adoré el espectáculo!!!
Maria Helena Doering @mahelenadoering

So much fun @jacksons_lane last night seeing #Ssshhh. Well done @Lucylovescircus on getting such a multi-talented bunch together. BRAVO all!
Leonor Lemee @LeonorLemee

I've totally fallen in love with this cast and @Lucylovescircus #nicestpersonIknow
                                         Michaela O'Connor @michaelaoconno6 

Happy families! Stunning premier of Ssshhh Cabaret 2 a sold out @jacksons_lane's #postcardsfestival crowd!
Danny Ash @MrDannyAsh

Thank you @jacksons_lane for another great night. Congratulations @Lucylovescircus for getting together such a fab group of performers!
Lumo Company @lumocompany

Thanks for everything! #Ssshhh #Postcards16🎪🎪
Jacksons Lane @jacksons_lane

If the quality of this evening @jacksons_lane #PostcardsFestival is anything to go by, bloggers should curate events way more often #Shhh
Katharine Kavanagh @TheCircusDiaries

I asked for an ensemble piece and you delivered a show!
Adrian Berry, Artistic Director at Jacksons Lane 


Ssshhhout out!
Physical comedy by Danny Ash
High energy, playful trapeze by Michaela O'Connor
1920s inspired musical saw by Lucy Frost aka Molly Orange
Enticing neo-burlesque by Esquire de Lune aka Brett Rosengreen
Blindfolded fire act by Red Sarah
Haunting aerial pole by Cheryl Teagann
Aerial rope and kettelebell juggling by Hamish Tjeong
Mesmerising club juggling by Onni Toivonen
Host for the evening Cirque de Soleil lead clown Sean Kempton

Click on the performer name to visit their site. 

POSTCARDS FESTIVAL 2017: a whole new Shhh! returns to Jacksons Lane on 29 July 2017
Book tickets here:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Chapter 152: Italy: Paradise Lost. Paradise Found.

"You're too little to remember this, but there was a time before circus when you would never find Mum on a telephone or laptop."

I overheard my 8 year old explain this matter of factly to her 4 year old sister a couple of weeks ago, on the way back from the school run. That's two years of their life, I thought. So when Xav texted me a few days later to say he'd booked us into an Italian campsite with his family, I didn't protest "but that's the last week of Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane..." I simply texted back Great! I was ready.

Only I wasn't. We missed the flight. Xav had lost his wallet and totally took the blame, but hand on heart if I'd actually been helping him with the kids and packing on that Sunday, the day after Ssshhh!, instead of all that social media wrap up, and then pulling an all-nighter to release a blog post about it, we would have caught the plane. I decided not to point this out though, and just polish my halo by taking over the search with a smile. I eventually found it by the coffee machine - elementary, really, for that hour in the morning - and we legged it to the airport, but in so doing I left my phone on the side in the kitchen, and the keys in the front door. The next available flight wasn't until early afternoon, so I ended up back on the tube to nip home, chatting to a beautiful vision in a bright fuchsia dress and metallic lilac eyeshadow, who writes a blog, intermittently, about women behaving outrageously in their 40s. Needless to say we hit it off immediately, and who knows where that will lead.

Clowning around take off
As I walked in the front door, a text bleeped: Don't hurry back to the airport, we've gone on a boat trip down the Thames! That extra couple of hours was a life-saver. Time enough to revisit the blog to correct any glaring syntactical errors (though I forgot to strip out the exclamation marks, dammit!!!), insert a couple of pics, grab a power nap and a shower. I made it back to the airport refreshed and on a high.
This was our first summer holiday abroad together in over five years (spare the violins, we love to ski), and so we ordered a glass of bubbly at lunch, only the Toby Maguire sweetheart of a waiter cocked up the order and brought yet another on the house. Not complaining, rather light-headed, feeling great, looking forward to the seat in business class they had bumped me up to on my own as there were only four seats left in economy. Xav gallantly put me forward as he was still feeling guilty about missing the last flight, and I kept very quiet. So there we were at the gate, some lovely guys gave up their seats for the kids and I'm mentally floating off to ... when they go and cancel the sodding flight!!! Of course they do. By this point I've had too much bubbly and collapse in a fit of the giggles. The kids were not amused. Except for our youngest, who hadn't quite grasped our predicament and skipped all the way along to baggage reclaim holding my hand and singing at the top of her voice "We are going to IT-A-LY, yay!" which cheered up the queue no end. Once there we turn collecting our luggage into the game of "that's not my suitcase..." and here we go again. British Airways stood us a taxi to Gatwick Airport, over an hour away. Another chance to nap at least, and we are all out for the count. Once checked in, we still had a good few hours still to kill, so each find a book at WH Smiths, and I grabbed a garish, but comfy-looking, pink satin eye mask from Boots, together with a few lotions and potions for good measure. Finally we boarded a plane covered in Spanish logos, with Spanish announcements and aircrew, and I wondered if we are headed to Florence at all... 

We hadn't planned to stop in Florence. From there we were to drive to a campsite down the road from an Italian nature reserve where Xav had holidayed as a child. Dyed in sunshine, my olive-skinned Latino Lover was once upon a time, astonishingly, known as "Il Biondino", for his tumble of blond curls. But by the time we landed the car rental was shut, so we were stuck for the night. To be honest, I can think of worse places to be stranded than the Florentine answer to the Savoy, complete with American Bar. Only this being Florence the artwork in the corridors was more of a nod to Renaissance religious devotions, gilded triptychs hanging from the walls. We had two rooms. We could have fit the entire family in one room, which turned out to be larger than the tent where we would spend the rest of the week. I sensed the rustle of crinoline down the hallway, signorinas on the Grand Tour, blushing with heat, fanning their imaginations and wending their way, somewhat unstably, to their room with a view.  By the time I came to from this reverie with my littlest one nestled in my arms the following morning, Xav had already picked up the hire car and we were off. We stopped off at a service station for lunch where I ordered a cappucino with a salad for lunch, much to the bewilderment of the girl behind the counter and the embarrassment of my husband. Lucy, you're in Italy now, people don't have cappucinos after lunch here.  I took a sip of my cappucino, and savoured my retort along with the foam. I swallowed it too.

The campsite itself was pretty basic. The tent for five was smaller than a single room in Florence the night before, and a baking furnace to boot. We peeled back every blind and window possible and reconciled ourselves to a week without privacy, but at least we had a makeshift draught. For the first time in forever I felt utterly unshackled. No locks, no wifi, no technology, no worries. Each morning we would cycle with cousins to a beach inaccessible to cars. When Xav was a child, the beach had been empty, now, still a trek to get to, it teemed with bronze sculpted adolescents, admiring themselves and each other. I felt like a pale phantom floating through a classic tale of Pygmalion meets Narcissus. It was a case of Paradise Lost for Xav. He missed having the place to himself. He missed swimming along the old, submerged via Romana where they would scoop up pieces of amphora and bring them back to the tent to paint and decorate. But then we happened on the bar and it was a case of Paradise Found. An oasis of cool, in every sense. Hammocks strung between the cypress and pines, cocktails on tap, not a single tourist bar the platform for an English band to play funked up reggae... we could have lost track of time in a place like that, if it weren't for little hands tugging us into the present.

One evening a clown came to the campsite. The idea of that amused me no end, because the Tuscans really do take themselves so seriously. I watched him for a little with my youngest. "Look, it's a juggler Mummy, a juggler!!!" she exclaimed enchanted, as he took out three balls and looped them in such an uninspired combination that I was itching to go up and take over - thank you Jon Udry (click here) for the masterclasses, I know I've dropped a few, but still... Then came a piece of melancholic trumpet-playing to a backing track, and I sat there willing him to at least have a go at trying to make us laugh. As ever, the universe delivered as for his next trick he pulled off the lion-tamer's routine, an exercise we had done in class with Butzi (see The Gift of Clowning - click here). My attempts had been hopeless, but I remembered then the hilarious performance by Italian classmate Angelo, and the memory of that, mixed with the unexpected delight of coming across another version here at the campsite "for real", made my evening.

Another evening we went for an ice-cream in Follonica, and there in the window was an advert for Circo Nero. Assuming it was some punk metallica band, I googled it just now to find it really is a circus of sorts, modelled on Tod Browning's 1930s "Freaks" but for the 21st Century. I enjoyed watching a video of interviews (click here) as much for the poetic soundbites on the idea of circus as for the reality of Circo Nero. It reminded me of the preshow act to Ssshhh!, for which I had compiled quotes and set to the Betty Hutton number "Oh So Quiet...", more original than Bjork.

After the week camping, we headed back to civilisation: Florence via a detour in Siena. I had always wanted to go there. I grew up with tales from my mother about Catherine of Siena, one of the first women doctors of the Church, a role-model for all free-thinking intelligent women, and took it for my confirmation name as a result. The bells peeled out as we approached the cathedral, and then we carried on straight past it to the main piazza for lunch. No circus here, bar the tourists, and the clowning with the waiter at lunch that earned me rosé on the house.

Onto Florence, we lucked out with an AirBnB right beside the Ponte Vecchio. Breathtaking beauty. I wanted to cry in awe of the sunset, the colourful riot of flags on the bridge (we counted them - all 52), the padlocked love, and above all the evergreen lines of Il Duomo round the corner that hijacked my vision and overshadowed all else. We wandered round the piazzas. That is to say, I tottered. I couldn't resist peeking into Desigual, the Barcelona clothes line whose quirky, topsy-turvy style has an air of circus about it. In fact the first piece I ever bought was a tunic dress for my daughter from their Cirque de Soleil collection. I found there a sundress fringed with Duomo green, and an empire line handy for the ever-expanding pasta belly. But it was oh so long. Next door, though, were selling a pair of gladiator-style sandals with stilts for heels. Utterly impractical with three kids on cobbles, but I reckoned they counted as equilibristics training and gave it a go. I lasted til just after lunch, then collapsed onto an upturned barrel in the back of a groovy gelateria, round the corner from Dante's house, where the walls were lined with sackcloths from Brazilian coffee beans, and David Bowie, musical clown and maestro, played non-stop.

The rain started soon after. The ground became shiny and (even more) lethal. Time for a pony and trap ride. "Francese, no?" said the driver, and proceeded to release a stream of French in a thickly buttered accent. I think I would have found Italian easier to understand. Still, we hit it off.  He stopped on a side street to pick up a punnet of cherries from the best market in town and insisted we have them. The kids faces streamed with juice, and our fingers were stained with pride. As we entered into the Piazza de la Signoria, he told us stories of the Medici castle, and each statue in turn, but left one out. What's that? Quella statua? I asked, pointing to a monstrosity of a giant gold turtle with a pint-sized man riding it. Quell'orrore? Our guide shuddered. Belgi. There was something Tin-Tinny about it.

In the corner of the square I spotted a bar with Circus up in lights, we had to stop for a drink there later. It had the dubious honour for serving up the worst mojito I have ever tasted in my life, but even that made us laugh. We moved on, ate our fill of pasta and anti-pasti, and threw ourselves back into the wonder of a week together in a world apart. It truly was La Dolce Vita, with circus everywhere, above all in our state of mind. In the words of Federico Fellini:

"Put yourself into life and never lose your openness, your childish enthusiasm throughout the journey that is life, and things will come your way."


Bridge with a View. Ponte Vecchio, Florence.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Chapter 151: The Big Night... Ssshhh!

Danny Ash, Molly Orange, Michaela O'Connor, Sean Kempton, Red Sarah, Onni Toivonen, Hamish Tjeong, Cheryl Teagan, Esquire De Lune 


"Luce, it was hot and it was sticky, it took us over an hour to get there, but we'd do it all again in a flash for a show like that.  We laughed our heads off. It's kept us pepped up all day today!" 

"In a bonkers world, of so much tragedy, you have all brought together an evening of sheer joy!" 

"I asked for an ensemble piece and you delivered a show!"
Adrian Berry, Artistic Director at Jacksons Lane 

María Helena Doëring & Jair Ramirez
Jacksons Lane was jam packed for the rafters last night. A sold out house, the only returns available went to four Colombian holiday-makers who had wandered into the foyer earlier, and in my best Spanish I encouraged them to come back later to see our show. I also said that with a bit of luck, they might bump into a friend of mine who is an amazing Colombian aerialist. To my astonishment (and slight panic due to the ticket situation), they did come back, just in time for the last few returns being released, and I was able to introduce them to Jair Ramirez. Jair then in turn informed me that the beautiful Maria Helena, to whom I had been merrily chatting away, was a Colombian television superstar. They were so excited about the show, and the music, afterwards, it was a complete joy. "Next you need her to give a shout out on social media", joked Ade when I told him about the coincidence, and I woke up the next morning to find that she had. 
I love the synchronicity of that story, because it illustrates a theory to which I hold: that people of "sympathetic vibrations" gravitate towards each other. In fact, I used that principle when curating this show, gathering together performers I was drawn to from different disciplines and communities (contemporary circus, pole, outdoor arts, cabaret, London, Bristol, Finland) who didn't necessarily know each other beforehand, and throwing them together to see how the chemistry worked and what would come out of it. The teamwork was then woven together by Sean Kempton and Michaela O'Connor, who make one hell of a double act. It was a huge success. Video and photos were recorded, so you will be able to see the footage soon, and why there has been such wonderful feedback on Twitter, but in the meantime, I hope the words below give you a feel for the evening...

Watching Ssshhh! as a regular punter was utterly magical. The technical run through on the day, looking at lighting and sound cues, had not prepared me for the costume, the colour and the ambience. I was spellbound from the word go, as Sean Kempton played around with light in the darkness and had a light on a long pole bouncing from one random audience member to another. It was beautiful. As he turned to go back to his desk a giant of a figure materialised from the shadows. It was Onni Toivonen,  a cross between Lurch, from the Adams Family and Loki, god of mischief, messing up Sean's game as he tried to write notes for the show. Pages came out of a book of light naming acts for the evening ... Pole... Trapeze... The next one was blank. And then it went up in flames. A voice came on overhead, in an interview. It was mine. I'd heard it enough times by now not to visibly squirm. Who is this Lucy Loves Circus? What is this evening all about? What are the three, no wait, make that four, qualities you'd like to see in the show tonight Lucy? Strength... kookiness... tease... playfulness... spotlights alighting briefly on a corresponding performer with that quality, the last one left on Michaela. Those really were the buzzwords driving the evening with this oddball family.

Molly Orange: Leave. Now.
There were threads running through the show that set up the characters. Michaela O'Connor, Little Miss Playfulness, was gloriously geeky in her twee knitted jumped, and then stripped off down to a razzmatazz of a red velvet number with the help of her gorgeous assistants Hamish Tjeong and Onni, there to give her a helping hand (make that thigh) up onto the bar, and carry her off at the end. Meanwhile Molly Orange (Lucy Frost) was there in the wings, looking daggers at Michaela. Red Sarah, doyenne of flame, mistress of the blindfold, with a touch of clowning in there from Sean, promised to have her wicked way with you, in the sultry score by Imelda May that accompanied her sizzling number. Sean then came on with white gloves tipped with lights, and boards that flipped over a rail for a game of call and response, getting the audience to clap, stamp and make all manner of noises, while  Danny Ash proceeded to hoover up the applause with a fab lip-synching Freddie Mercury routine. Hamish's aerial rope act was heartbreakingly beautiful as an infinity of loops knitted and drops spun out a poignant goodbye. That thread was then picked up by Red Sarah who brought on a cape, relic of a tragic love, and ceremoniously laid it on the ground. There it was ready to whisked up by Esquire de Lune (aka Brett Rosengreen) who twirled it around in a flamboyance of flamenco before selecting a victim volunteer who he led up to the stage, nuzzling her, telling her to kiss him on the cheek before turning his head at the last moment for a smack on the lips (reminding me of Tweedy the Clown doing that at Giffords Circus recently - I still fell for it when I was the stooge in a practice run, thanks Brett!). He struck gold too, picking someone who went with the flow and played up to it. She seemed vaguely familiar too, but I couldn't quite place it until I bumped into her in the loos at the interval and was delighted to find that Donna was someone I had met at The Island, a circus training space in Bristol, back in January, just before that date with fate, Ken Dodd and the custard pie at the Slapstick Festival (click here). Pause. Michaela came in strutting around with an Intermission board. Molly Orange strode across, and in a flash sliced her arm with a cleaver. It looked gruesomely realistic, gasps from the audience. Michaela's look of astonishment was priceless, then she fell to the ground and dragged herself off along the floor, very, very slowly. Molly Orange meanwhile calmly picked up the board, brandished it and gestured with the knife that everyone should get the fuck out of the auditorium. Now. 

Michaela O'Connor and Sean Kempton
The second half opened with Sean and Michaela doing a dance off  in matching white shirts and gold lamé leggings (left behind by those Water on Mars boys?!! See previous post - click here!). More and more performers joined in until a voiceover from yours truly explained what she didn't want to see in such an evening, so goodbye sleaze...grime...tack... jazz hands... you get the drift. As the penny dropped for Sean the music cut from a ghetto groove to classical finesse, to showcase some slow free-style contemporary dance from the performers, where again Sean's clowning chemistry with Onni came into its own. Huge guffaws from the audience. On came Molly Orange, kookiness personified, with her musical saw act, about the girl who "now she sleeps with one eye open". And the beauty of this is that her mistreatment of Michaela had set up this character and added piquancy to the story. The ballad had elements of Kate Bush, I thought, and I loved the instrumental with the musical saw itself, it was terrific. The point where she turned her back to the audience and gouged out her eye was horrifically clever. Someone did actually question whether it was real blood, which I guess was in itself an accolade. One of my favourite moments was the clean up after, where Sean came on with a towel, whistled Onni over to mop it up, and Onni just gave him a look, the power play swapping in an instant so that in no time at all Sean's whole body was lying atop the towel like a virtual mop-head being pushed back and forth 'til it was clean. Another clown then took the stage as Danny, the voguing sheep, took another willing volunteer from the audience, sat him on a chair and delivered a monologue to the baasstard Mr Farmer, who had, it transpired, already moved onto the next sheep. How very dare he. It was surreal, it was funny, and it was highly original. Again, applause to the volunteer, who really followed Danny's lead... literally when the noose was put round his neck in the bleat of a heartbeat and he was led off stage and up out the stairs for a wander! 

Another of my favourite moments followed as Hamish came on in a dressing gown, pink socks and slippers, carrying a pair of scales. Onni was there to read out the number. 82 kilos he announced, in a comically flat tone. Hamish went out, came back with a kettle bell, then another and then finally he lifted up Onni and took him onto the scales. Onni bends his head round to read the number. Pause. You broke the scales. Then came the kettle-bell juggling, disrobing from the dressing-gown to reveal a pair of hair waisted tight gold shorts, which one of my dearest friends who is Russian noted with delight was a nod to the wardrobe of famous kettle-bell legend Valentin Dikul. I doubt the knee high pink socks were though! I have to say this act was the scariest for me. I had heard them thud thickly on floorboards a couple of days before and the noise made me jump every time. I had also played around with picking them up. Not easy. The one that is 32 kilos in weight was a killer! So watching Hamish swing them around, flip them, toss them up onto one hand, had both a weighted beauty and was also rather nerve-wrecking. Comic relief came at the end as Molly Orange strode in with her minion Michaela in tow, each grabbing a bell and struggling off, while Esquire De Lune walked in, nonchalantly picked up the lightest thing there (the scales) and casually wandered off.

Cheryl Teagan on aerial pole performed a haunting piece in a diaphanous white skirt overlaying a silver tunic as the tease. It was an ethereal, beautiful act and my goodness how elastic and fluid were her movements. The flawless performance prompted Michaela and Molly Orange to set their sights on a new target and they ran across the stage after her, new BFFs with daggers at the ready, while Red Sarah was bringing a flaming torch up the rear (!). It was rather gratifying, and not a little hilarious, to hear that my neighbour's husband thought that the pole dancer was me wearing a hairpiece, and thinking of Tweedy again, in a blonde wig doing the cancan routine with Giffords Circus, I'm wondering if there isn't scope for a little clowning piece in there for me. I've put my audition piece on Instagram, but I've yet to hear back from Sean...

Last up was Onni Toivonen juggling, and I was really excited about this moment, because here's the thing: pole, aerial, fire, and all those sideshow skills had a wow factor that people warm to immediately. But many people simply couldn't give a toss about juggling, and if anyone could change that, I knew it would be Onni. I was gutted for him that the whole Gandini Juggling family were in France for the weekend for a reunion of "Smashed" and "4x4" (click here), but there were still a fair few exceptional jugglers in the audience able to witness his brilliance from a technical viewpoint, and several fellow Finns in the crowd as well watching his UK debut. Onni performed his graduation piece from DOCH (the university of dance and circus in Stockholm), from where he has just graduated and it was utterly brilliant. Sticking to clubs, so keeping it simple, accentuated the complexity of the movements and tricks he was executing. I loved the balance of three clubs he made on his head, the cascades, the flips, the sense of humour after a drop giving himself a swift clock on the head with another club, or taking advantage of a pause to pick out a piece of cotton wool stuck between his toes left over by Danny's Shaun Sheep! The way Onni carried on and persevered to lead to the most triumphant and astonishing finale led to a triumphant and thunderous applause. I lost track of how many people said to me (and I wonder how many to him) "I never thought juggling was my thing, but seeing Onni has changed all that..." So yes, Onni was the showstopper I always knew he would be, only the show didn't stop there...

Danny Ash, Molly Orange, Onni Toivonen, Michaela O'Connor
For the finale his old pal Sean came on, looked up to him and the music "Careless Whisper" came on. Brilliant. Wordlessly Onni declined the implicit invitation to dance with Sean. As did Michaela, and then each of the performers in turn followed suit and went to the audience to bring back their own partner, leaving Sean on his own. After a minute or two, at his cue, all the performers bar Sean departed, and the volunteers had to follow Sean's lead in the dance steps to Sinatra's "Young At Heart". I was delighted to see one of them picked is Jair, so I guessed our new Colombian friends would get to see him perform after all! 

For the grand finale, set to "Brazil" each volunteer was invited to perform their own solo, while Sean announced them by name. They were all brilliant, from the shimmies to the leaps and bounds, a cheeky cameo cartwheel from Jair and a quick handstand dance off with Sean. A handstand from another volunteer as well was fab. Ah, it was brilliant, everyone got into the spirit of the music and the applause brought the roof down. Afterwards we spilled out of the auditorium and into the bar, which luckily was open til midnight. Bravo! Encore, guys! 

Some of my favourite people in the world were at the show last night. Latitude and summer holidays robbed me of a fair few more, but the good luck cards sent in absentia came with me to the theatre, including one from the Outer Hebrides from my virtual friend Hannah, who I have never actually met, but is very much a kindred spirit over in the Twittersphere. Her thoughtfulness touched me beyond words. It meant so much to me that my husband Xav, some of my siblings and my niece were able to see the show. I have put so much time and energy into the circus scene and this blog over the past two years, often at their expense and they have quite rightly called me on it time and again. It hasn't been easy. To share this evening with them, to show them all that I love, and why I love it, has been a real gift. And as for all those complete strangers, who showed their appreciation for the performers so vociferously, well, it was just wonderful and beyond my wildest dreams. So if anyone out there saw the show and would like to see it again, or has any ideas about how we might fund it, please let us know! 

Thank you Ade Berry for inviting me to curate a night at Jacksons Lane, and to Flora Herberich and the team who have been there every step of the way. It has been an incredible opportunity, a very steep learning curve and a fantastic experience. 

As for you, Sean, Michaela, Danny, Lucy, Sarah, Cheryl, Brett, Hamish and Onni, what can I say?! You have given far more than I would ever have dreamed of asking for. Thanks for all those good vibes, you are terrific and it has been a lot of fun. Ssshhh! 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Chapter 150: Postcard from Mars - Plastic Boom

Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane has begun! The bunting is out, rainbows of flags strung up with pride, and a vintage selection of postcards hang from the ceiling. Here's mine:

The festival opened last night with Water on Mars by Plastic Boom, comprising Americans Tony Pezzo and Wes Peden, and Swede Patrick Elmnert, who live in Stockholm and met while studying at DOCH (Stockholm's University of Dance and Circus). Wowsers! What a way to open festival. Astonishingly beautiful, utterly hilarious, these guys are acrobats, clowns, creators, innovators, mathematicians and magicians. With hundreds of plastic rings, clubs, kitkats, waterbottles and backflips tossed into the mix, I left wondering if there was anything these guys can't juggle?!

I was excited about seeing this show for a number of reasons. First, I had seen the video circulating (see below) and loved the vibe. Secondly the show is co-produced by Gandini Juggling, whose shows are always visionary and exciting. Finally, I was meeting our own juggler for Ssshhh! Onni Toivonen there, who is in the UK for the first time, coming straight from the airport to the theatre. 

When I first heard about Water on Mars I kept referring to it as Life On Mars so it was funny watching it next to fellow Bowie enthusiast Ade, both registering with delight a Bowie t-shirt on stage first. In terms of actual music, an electro beat accompanied the high-octane energy for a concentrated hour. I liked the gold lamé leggings underneath the shorts - gotta have a bit of bling! - and was drawn in like a magpie by the shine, the colour, the plastics and quirk - they had a Mexican piñata hanging from a rope light! There was definitely more than a nod to Japanese pop art in the plastic boom of artificiality and meticulous precision that featured.

After all that, to say "I have never seen like this show before" is a bit lame (without the accént), but trust me Plastic Boom are jaw-dropping exceptional and laugh-out loud funny. The audience, which leapt to its feet in a riotous standing ovation at the end that went on and on, had a number of fellow-jugglers whooping away in admiration, so much so that the bar afterwards felt a bit like an unofficial European Jugglers Convention. Funnily enough Onni, who has just graduated from DOCH, used to live with Wes and Patrick, and down the road from Tony, so it really was home from home for him, a great way to ease into his week here, kinda crazy too! I also chatted to a number of people who are not fans of juggling per se, who had just come for the festival, and were blown away by the show. We all came out reeling in fact, punchdrunk before even tucking into the "Postcards Punch" home-brew served at the bar! And I left thinking I just want to see the show again.

The good news is if you are going to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer you can catch Water on Mars up there in August. It really is a #mustsee: (click here for tickets)

And, of course, catch Onni Toivonen in Ssshhh! on Saturday night (click here for tickets) - see previous post to find out more about all the artists involved.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Chapter 149: Introducing the performers...Ssshhh!!!

Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane is here this week, kicking off with extraordinary juggling in Water On Mars on Tuesday (see them in action on YouTube - click here).  There is a fabulous line-up of female artists in Flappers on Wednesday. On Thursday, Jess Love's one-woman show And The Little One Said brings the dark heart of the fairytale to play with a variety of circus skills. Friday is A Night with Alula Cyr, the female trio of Cyr wheeling acrobats, joined by special guests, friends from the circus world. As for Saturday, Ssshhh!  

Ssshhh! is an evening that combines old-school circus skills and side-show traditions and gives them a contemporary vaudeville twist. The name was inspired, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, by the name of the Hoxton sex shop, for women only, round the corner from the National Centre of Circus Arts. As well as conjuring up this idea of tease, or "Ssshhh! Listen up, I have a secret to tell you..." it is also a nod to the disapproving "Ssshhh! Hush up!" that greets any noise in a theatre audience. It's open to all and any interpretation really...

The idea for the evening came about back in February, when Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, invited me to curate an evening for the Postcards Festival - I'm still pinching myself! Ade challenged me to think about all the performances I have enjoyed, not just at Jacksons Lane (where, by rights, I should apply for a timeshare in their broom cupboard!) but beyond. Of course, the moment he said that my mind flew to the one performer in our show I did meet at Jacksons Lane... 

I met Sean Kempton last year at Canvas, the circus networking event bringing together artists, producers and programmers, where he was a compere for the day's events at Jacksons Lane. What struck me then was Sean's natural rapport with the audience and the way he engaged them, and so I wasn't surprised to find out that he had been working abroad for years as a lead clown for Cirque De Soleil, and at the forefront of modern circus in the UK before that. Sean now has a beautiful one-man show Stuff that he is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, which I saw recently at the London Clown Fest (post to follow, meanwhile check out the Edinburgh Reporter's rave review - click here) that explores the genesis and evolution of love and connections, in a way that is funny, touching and at points even brutal. What I love above all is the advice Sean gave me when I went on my first ever clowning workshop: "Work out what the rules are first, Lucy... and then break them!" That's just what I want for the evening, so I claimed him as my joker in the pack, and host for the night. 

Keen to incorporate as much physical comedy as possible, I also thought of Michaela O'Connor, who I had also met at Canvas, on the last day at The Albany where she was pitching her show for trapeze trio Hattie, think Walter Mitty meets Holly Golightly. I loved the concept for her show, but I was also struck by Michaela's ad-lib delivery. She was warm, charismatic and hilarious. And so we have another clown who will be serving up a high energy, playful trapeze act to kick off the cabaret in a way that only Michaela can! 

As good things come in threes, we have one more clown Mr Danny Ash, who I connected with over a year ago on Twitter after watching him as part of the first year ensemble for the end of year production at the National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA), where I was taking classes in static trapeze at the time. There was a spark that drew me to him. Danny is an amazing aerialist and is all over the cabaret scene, often and never a drag - Kylie, Putin, Latin lovers and English roses, his impersonations are brilliant and varied. His end of year solo this year, a homage on silks to Freddie Mercury, taking a vacuum cleaner with him to hoover up the applause, was note perfect. 

My own recreational training has informed my selection in many other ways. From the word go I was keen to have a representative from the pole community, as that is where I started out on my quest to become a circus strong-woman. In circus circles, when I talk pole, it is generally assumed I'm talking Chinese Pole, the pole with grip requiring clothes and shoes. "No, no, I mean the shiny pole for strippers", I am quick to correct, ever the Agent Provocateur. It's far more than that, of course. The workshop Anna Milosevic of PoleFit London organised with Cirque de Soleil performer Felix Kane is still seared in my brain. Seeing Felix for four minutes in an impromptu piece set to Lana Del Rey's "Born To Die" was astonishing. That experience there, I thought, is what I want to communicate one day, and so I am delighted to have Cheryl Teagan on board. Cheryl is an instructor at PoleFit London, also has trained in contortion, and handstands at the NCCA, among other circus spaces, and I am delighted that she bridges the two communities. I saw Cheryl doing an Electric turn in Brixton recently. (Chapter 144 - click here). 

Talking of charged performances, I also wanted one of the Boylexe boys, from one of the best nights out I've had in the past two years (Chapter 34 - click here), where the smouldering charms of Esquire De Lune, aka Brett Rosengreen, made quite an impression. Fresh from dancing on stage with "Take That" last weekend and off to the Edinburgh Fringe with Briefs Factory, he is gorgeous, he's a tease, and he ticks all manner of boxes. 

As well as all that electricity, I wanted fire, pure and simple. Who better then than Red Sarah, director of The Fire School? She has so much experience on the cabaret and burlesque scene, I love the way she plays with gender and sexuality in her drag king act, and challenges the status quo. Red Sarah is fierce, strong and has the edge. She showed me how to burn my body and swallow fire (Chapter 88 - click here). I quite literally trust her with my life.

Another performer who has the edge, albeit a serrated one, is Lucy Frost, aka Molly Orange with her musical saw. I was introduced to her by Ade Berry the day she returned to the UK, having received arts funding to tour the vibrant circus scene in Australia, cataloguing circus spaces and reporting back on what opportunities there are over there for UK artists. She is a dynamo of energy and a whole mine of funny stories. When I rang her up we hit it off immediately, chatting for a good hour, for Lucy loves circus, obviously! Very much an integral part of the Outdoor Arts scene, Lucy has huge experience in street theatre drawing in the crowds, and I love the blend of dark humour and no limits in her musical saw act that slices through the heart of love.

Hamish Tjeong was in the very first show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe with leading aerial company Ockham's Razor. I liked the natural rapport he had with the audience, a quiet humour that I found intriguing, and when I bumped into the cast afterwards outside, tentatively introducing myself and handing round my card, he took it with a smile and said he already read my blog. That made my day! As well as being one of the most beautiful rope performers I know, Hamish has been working with kettle-bell juggling, an old-school circus skill that had its origins in the traditional way Russian farmers used to keep fit and strong. It's quirky and it's different, especially in Hamish's hands.

I wanted some regular juggling too, but with a twist, and Hamish put me in touch with the exceptional Onni Toivonen, a Finnish juggler who has just graduated from DOCH in Stockholm. I have met so many wonderful Finnish circus artists through Jacksons Lane that it is great to have them represented in the evening! The first time I saw Onni's video Clubbed To Death (click here) I felt like shouting Eureka! His style is fluid, mesmerising and compelling, describing all the mathematical perfection of juggling, underpinned with humour. Onni will be making his UK debut here. 

So there we have it. That's the team. Special mention, of course, to our producer Flora Herberich. She is producing four shows at the Postcards Festival this year, and curating her own Flappers. It was Flora who invited me to Canvas last year, and who has introduced me to so many people, including clowning maestro Ira Seidenstein (Chapter 114 - click here), who have made such a difference to this circus journey over the past couple of years. 

And now, for one night, for one night only, I have the chance to show you all I love about circus through the work of these amazing artists. The love can spill out into the bar afterwards as it is open til midnight, serving up a knock-out Postcards Punch among other festival spirits, and you can join us afterwards to party! 

This is it, ladies and gents! Saturday 16th July at Jacksons Lane... roll up, belt up... and Ssshhh!

A handful of tickets left - catch the last few here:

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Chapter 148: I am half agony, half hope.

Thursday, 23 June. I am half agony, half hope. If I were to believe my Facebook feed, or playground gossip, the Remain vote is a shoo-in. But each time there has been an election that community has been utterly wrong. I live in a bubble. And I feel it's about to pop. Again. 

Friday, 24 June. I can write the saddest lines of all tonight. Write, for example: "The night is full of stars, and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance." The night wind whirls around the sky and sings. I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her...

Those words aren't mine, obviously. I borrowed them from the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, because I don't have any of my own right now. I love her. Europe. I love her. My Mum. And I'm not quite ready to use the past tense for either just yet.

When I break the news of Brexit to my son this morning, a boy who is old enough to understand the implications, but too young to vote, I think my heart can't break any more. Then I hear the news later that day that Mum, 84, has collapsed, and it does. I can't help but feel the two events are somehow connected, even though reason tells me otherwise. For my parents, who lived through the War, to witness the rising tide of racism and xenophobia as Britain goose-steps its way out of Europe has been a devastating blow. 

Saturday, 25 June.  I cancel my clowning workshops for the day and drive straight down to the hospital. As I turn in, I see a poster advertising Circus Wonderland. Circus everywhere. Seriously?! Despite a sense of urgency to get to the hospital, I haven't quite absorbed how precarious a situation Mum is in. I arrive at intensive care to find her in a medically induced coma. Seven seasons of Grey's Anatomy have not prepared me for the tubes and the bleeping machines. Standing round her bedside the next day with my five siblings and Dad, invited by the doctors to say goodbye, is where words fail, but somehow Mum has made it through the next round of surgery. These are early days, and she is fragile, but we are cautiously optimistic. 

I am resigned to the fact that so much right now is outside of my control, both in the personal and the political sphere, and in the no-man's land of the early hours of the morning have found myself turning, after a fashion, to Shakespeare. The writer who, time and again, shows us how intricately the two are woven. I have found the space to read an entire novel, ironically called "The Gap of Time". It is a cover version by Jeanette Winterson of "A Winter's Tale", part of the "Shakespeare Lives" project, see - click here. Set in both London and the jazz space of New Bohemia, with cameos from a Clown and that circus space of The Roundhouse, I am in familiar territory.  It has brought home to me that when events are outside our control, we are not powerless. We still have a choice about how we respond, and in so doing time and again there lies the opportunity to redeem the past, rather than let the past mortgage the future.

Thursday, 30 June. Xavier and I are at the funeral today of a man we loved dearly. In the past fortnight three people we love have died and my mother is on a life-support machine. Deep in the countryside, surrounded by beauty, I take heart in words from Shakespeare. "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows...", there lies a midsummer night's dream. My siblings message me that Mum has regained consciousness. I return home to a hug from my son, and the news that he has signed me up to make brownies for his entire class for the following day. Thanks love.

Friday 1st July. Today is the anniversary of the start of The Battle of the Somme. I went there one summer with my parents. We visited memorials and graveyards, living testimony to some 60,000 dead, and walked in the footsteps of history. Walk a while in their shoes. That is what we all need to do. To remember. Lest We Forget. A two minute silence is observed at 7.30am apparently. About the time when I am shouting at the kids to get a move on for school, while shoving some edible glitter onto the sodding brownies. Actually they turn out rather well (the cakes and the kids) and having decanted two dozen pieces of chocolate decadence into tupperware, we feast on the leftovers for breakfast.

After dropping the kids off, I shoot straight down to the hospital in Portsmouth. Mum has had a restless night and is sleeping deeply. I sit, watching, waiting. I am reminded of a Gérard de Nerval story related in the "The Gap of Time", a tale within a tale. An angel falls to earth. Trapped in a block of buildings, if he opens his wings to fly back to the sky all around him will crumble. If he remains he will die. I think of Mum and her Remaining. When Mum comes round, gently, she gives me the most angelic smile. You are so pretty. I like your necklace. It is an edelweiss pendant, a present from a German pen-friend when I was 14. Mum likes her mountain flowers. Edelweiss remind me of Switzerland. Have you ever been? I think she is teasing me, for my husband is Swiss. What is your name? Lucy? Ah, I have a daughter called Lucy. She's been to Switzerland too..." It's been raining, my hair has sprung into soft curls round my face. Maybe that is why she mistakes me for a hospital angel. She is holding onto my hand. I am still smiling, swallowing gently, blinking rapidly. It is me, Mum. I am your daughter. I'm right here. Soon the haze wears off and she is lucid, mortified she didn't recognise me earlier, naming each of my children in turn, as though to reassure us both. The consultant is doing the rounds. They will be moving her from intensive care as soon as they can find a bed. I am pinching myself. We have Mum back. 

We are in recovery now. And it is not just Mum. It is the entire family. It is the entire country. It is easy to say we should remember that our response to even the most dire of situations is always in our control, but it is much harder in practice. When I hear of a Brexit vote, or worse a bleated apology (often a justification, rather than an expression of regret) a red mist descends. Especially now when I know one or two in my family (not the "wrinklies" - I hate that expression!) voted out. In the violence of my emotions I run the risk of letting anger make a monster of me, and I have to swallow it, or divide the family. I see in the news others letting rip their inner demons, whether it be fear of others or hatred of themselves, and whether the anger is justifiable or deeply sinister, ultimately the outcome is the same. Revenge begets further tragedy. That is what Shakespeare warns us time and again. We need a space to grieve publicly, and to join our voices together to mourn what is lost. But it is our duty also to forgive those who don't want to be forgiven, to reach out to those who don't want to shake our hand, to listen with our hearts to their concerns and to somehow find a way to reconnect. I write this. Lest I forget. 

Dad carved this plaque, Mum painted it. We are Europe.