Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2015
International company Cirque Le Roux have produced the most complete fusion of narrative theatre and top flight circus skills ever to grace our shores in The Elephant in the Room, an exquisitely crafted whodunnit farce of tell-tale acrobatic excellence.
Monochrome regency decor that makes me think of a Malmaison hotel lobby subtly shifts as the show progresses, warming up as stakes intensify. Initial projected credits set the tone of an old classic movie and, although not ideally positioned against the flocked wallpaper and gilt framed oil-paintings, are still clear enough to introduce us to the cast.
Lolita Costet is the volatile Miss Betty – recently turned Mdm. Barick – just married, yet deeply unsatisfied with the situation. To what ends will she go to get her way? Husband John is played by a stern Yannick Thomas, who emanates unspoken mafia threat; Philip Rosenberg is an American stranger, determined to seduce at least one member of the party this evening; the butler is the bumbling stumbling (in the most elegantly honed way) Grégory Arsenal. I want to say there is something John Cleese about his comic performance, but Cleese never had this exceptional physically acuity.
Everything about this show is tight, from the creative lighting design of Herve Dile (Royal de Luxe), to the musical compositions of Alexandra Streliski and the vocal composition around the text, using both French and English to great effect. Director Charlotte Saliou (credited in the show by her clown name Jackie Star) has drawn upon an array of cultural tropes and arranged them with an eagle’s eye – I am pleased with myself for recognising a little rose adagio homage!
The acrobatics are deeply entrenched within the whole story-telling and characterisation, so a run down of specific technique seems inappropriate. But let me just say: ‘four high’. There is also a huge amount of creativity involved in the choreography, especially in the ensemble Chinese pole work. The company are pushing the limits of everything that can be done with their technique, sliding and balancing into ensemble pictures as smoothly as sipping a glass of champagne.
There is sexuality, and a noir ending that are subtly enough to allow younger audience members into the show, and I am pleased to see the Albert & Friends youth company in the audience; the next generation of circus performers getting to see the heights of excellence in incomparable daring, skill and vision.
And the eponymous elephant in the room? I have to admit, I’m unsure. Not that it matters. I wonder if it’s sex… the undertones and overtones of one woman onstage with three men… Regardless of my uncertainty in that titular matter, I’m sure in saying this is a groundbreaking work of the highest quality.