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! 

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