Underbelly George Square, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 10th August 2015
The Close Up perspective we get in Circa‘s latest World Premiere is not, as might be expected, from any unusual proximity to the artists (for that, try Ellie DuBois’ Ringside), but from an exposure to the practical aspects of a circus lifestyle behind the glamour.
In contrast to the high-gloss productions I’ve seen from Circa before, Close Up is a rougher beast, made to connect audiences to the realities of training, intensity and camaraderie, instead of simply gawping in amazement. (Though there are still plenty of gawping moments from the skilled quartet of performers.)
Slow motion images of body parts in flight are projected onto a giant screen that fills the back of the stage area. These are fascinating even beyond the inevitable televisual attraction, revealing every ripple of skin, twitch of muscle or hair waving in the slipstream as the film focuses on the detail of undisclosed acrobatic feats. The images recur throughout the performance, focusing on various body parts and, when live action takes place simultaneously it is the onstage performers who lose out in the battle for my attention.
First we are introduced to the hands, their puffs of chalk dust, the strength of their all-important grips. The performers (Lauren Herley, Lisa Goldsworthy, Todd Kilby, Daniel O’Brien) introduce themselves onstage, then move out into the audience, discussing their speciality and the impact it has on their body, inviting us to feel the callouses of their palms, to really see beyond the illusion of spectacle.
There are group acrobatics, whose level of difficulty may be overlooked by many in the audience due to the laid-back performance style, competing at times with the projected imagery, and the usual grimace inducing contortion moves from Herley, who has a wonderfully communicative face, and a dancer’s flow to all her movement. There are audience members bought onstage to sit and witness feats of movement more directly. There is a new take on demonsplaining while the Chinese pole is rigged to a review of the previous day’s efforts at the same, which is interesting and engagingly riffed by Kilby.
The highlight of the show is a chair tower, deconstructed into a team effort that reveals far more of the act’s fragility than the usual solo display of virtuosity can. I was notified before the show that O’Brien is recovering from a sprain, and that some of his performance would necessarily be adjusted. Rushing to check after the show if this was one of those elements, I was relieved to discover that the ensemble construction is the usual mode of presentation for this act.
It strikes me that Close Up is a show about why these artists do what they do, and their attempts to share that with us. It’s not yet at the level of sophistication I expect from Yaron Lifschitz‘ direction – unsurprising when you consider this is the fourth new show he has birthed this year – but is moving in an interesting direction and is still in the upper echelons of contemporary circus experimentation and experiences. The challenge of bringing genuine intimacy into a mid-scale venue production is an intriguing one.