Sunday, 25 June 2017

Chapter 197: Barely Methodical Troupe's KIN

All photos courtesy of Worthing Theatres
Charlie Wheeller 

About a year ago I went to see a brilliant one man show at Battersea Arts Centre, a tour de force retelling of Milton's Paradise Lost. I was with author Lucy Ribchester, who also reviews circus at the Edinburgh Fringe for The List, but this was our night "off" circus. It was amusing then to watch the performer at one point ascend a rope, at another do a little invisible juggling. We chatted to him afterwards about it and it turned out he had a genuine interest in circus. "Did you go to the Roundhouse Circus Fest this year?" He asked. Oh yes, I replied, and proceeded to wax lyrical on one particular highlight, which he really should catch if possible one day, a thrillingly funny show called KIN by Barely Methodical Troupe. It turned out he knew the show already. He was Ben Duke. The Director.

JD & Nikki

Jonathan Bendtsen
KIN is Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT)'s second show.   In their first show, the award-winning Bromance, which I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe, Charlier Wheeller, Beren D'Amico and Louis Gift, who met as students at the National Centre for Circus Arts, explored the tensions and comedy that underpinned the dynamics of their three-way friendship. In KIN the trio is extended to a group with the addition of Jonathan Bendtsen, Arthur Parsons, taking on Louis' role, and acro duo JD & Nikki (Jean-Daniel Broussé and Nikki Rummer). Together they explore the shift in relationships as the boys compete for the attention of, and selection by, one woman in a Britain's Got Talent-style scenario, which works both in story-telling terms and as a metaphor for the politics of the group and power play. In both shows it is clear that, aside from the stellar circus skills, these performers have the X-factor because they come across as genuine and immensely likeable.

Crossing popular culture references with contemporary circus excellence was a great choice to open Worthing Theatre's Summer of Circus festival. Amanda O'Reilly, Head of Culture, said that she wanted the circus programme to catch in summer the footfall from the pantomime-goers in winter months. Looking around at an audience largely comprised of locals and families, I could see she had captured that demographic. The oval space with its vast, high ceilings was the perfect circus setting, and a much more intimate affair, closer to the action than The Roundhouse, where I had sat on the back row of the gods. 

JD Broussé, Arthur Parsons, Charlie Wheeller, Beren D'Amico
Upbeat, energetic, dynamic, dishevelled with smatterings of what looked like flour (roisin?) on their faces, from the moment the BMT boys tumbled onto the stage like wolf cubs, the audience were with them. Excitement and fun charged the atmosphere. Nikki, in matrix style coat and dark glasses stared on impassively, taking notes on a clipboard, as the boys, identified by randomly assigned numbers on their trousers, comically vyed for her attention. Displays of physical prowess, like 19 going for a backwards tuck off, and back onto, 39's shoulders, are met with blistering indifference. Put on pedestals, literally, these demigods (tongue in cheek) with laurel wreaths on the heads, were called in turn to audition for her favour. Awkward, risible moments followed: 108 played the accordian with that certain je ne sais quoi, 19 was brought to his knees, and still lower, in a hilarious dance serenade to Purple Rain39 performed devilishly skilled diabolo juggling and  07's stroke of genius was playing The Four Seasons on a finger piano. Each was either interrupted by a buzzer or, even more humiliatingly, by their Adjudicator simply walking off the stage and leaving them to it. 52's turn on Cyr wheel was rewarded with a banana, but the Lord of the Flies rivalry that it gave way to made being singled out in that fashion something of a poisoned chalice.

Get. Me. Down!
As the show progressed the acrobatics crescendoed in terms of risk, all the more so because it was a sweltering evening and potential for slipping through sweaty grips rose exponentially. By the time it got to the teeterboard routines, bodies catapulting through the air off a wooden seesaw, I found myself registering any hint of a wobble or stumble caught in a split second, and becoming utterly tense, as though by contracting all my muscles I could secure their safety.

That's the play, get the audience teetering while the performers nonchalantly sail through the air. Circus performers really do have a different take on gravity and mindset born of talent, curiosity and hard graft.  The clowning around throughout was hilarious, and there were also gentler moments of sheer beauty. As well as single turns on the Cyr wheel, I loved the duet between Bendtsen (39) and Wheeller (52). This time round it felt as though it had been expanded with new tricks in there too. Watching JD (108) & Nikki hand-to-hand in their element gave me goosebumps, especially with a darker undercurrent opening the duet. As number 07 Arthur Parsons had, literally, giant shoes to step into, but felt a naturally integrated, fundamental part of the whole. 

Nikki Rummer and Beren D'Amico
I loved the seamless silence with which Nikki flipped across the stage, or the way she walked across steps of human heads with fluidity and ease. Here was the one in control both of her physicality and emotions; contained, so it seemed. The aura of Mystery culminated in a visually striking three high, where a long cloak hid the middle and the base underneath, so only Nikki as flyer on top was visible. The haunting Kyrie playing underscored her status, to be revered, like a statue of the Virgin Maria paraded in Holy Week. As the cloak opened and the revelation, and realisation, came that she was way up there thanks to being on the shoulders of others, her fear became apparent. She was vulnerable. Get. Me. Down! She commanded, part pleading. The tables were turned. "What are you afraid of?" led to the confession "Being alone". The spell has been broken: acknowledging that without them all she was nothing, she was now part of the pack. 

The crowd was bowled over. I enjoyed the ad libs from the eight children sitting in a row in front of me, clearly circus savvy, and the anticipation, whoops and gasps from all around at the superb stunts and the infectious, eclectic music from Bowie to Piaf to Hair! The moment the show ended everyone leapt to their feet in a standing ovation and gave a thunderous applause. It was a joy to be a part of that and witness this new wave of circus on the coast. Congrats all round, and cheers!

Nikki Rummer, 07 Arthur Parsons, 108 JD Broussé, 19 Beren D'Amico (front), 52 Charlie Wheeller (behind), 39 Jonathan Bendtsen

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