‘Heroes’, by All Or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre

Review from: Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 6th August 2019

At home in Edinburgh for the Fringe, Heroes is a new locally produced show from All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre in collaboration with dance company Room 2 Manouevre, which has been choreographed and co-directed by the leaders of both organisations, Jennifer Paterson and Tony Mills respectively.

Before I begin this review, I head to the show’s webpage to find out a bit more on who it’s aimed at, because I can’t quite tell from watching. The rig of square truss arches seems very tourable, and I wonder at first if it’s intended for outside venues. But later some work with a follow spot like batman’s famous call sign – creating shadows and inspiring games of chase and imagination – puts that idea to rest. Perhaps then it’s for touring to schools? This would be a great show to have in your primary school hall! Unfortunately, it doesn’t sit quite so well in the Underbelly’s ticketed flagship circus venue.

On the one hand, it’s great giving a Scottish company the opportunity to sit amongst the other international artists gracing the Circus Hub programme. On the other hand, Heroes just doesn’t match up to their level of quality, perhaps doing a disservice to the work that could have fitted more appropriately elsewhere.

There is a moral in Heroes about not looking up to celebrities for no reason, and about appreciating those around us who improve our everyday lives. That part is delivered very directly through didactic scripted lines at sparse intervals. There are two characters, who come to realise and share this moral. One of them is called Beverley (Beverley Grant), but we never find out who the other is (Tony Mills, the press release tells me). We don’t know their relationship to each other, what their world is, or, really, what they’re doing. There is a lot of movement with heroic motifs that may keep our attention, but pauses the story; I can’t follow much of how one scene moves into another or why the characters’ attitudes towards each other seem to change from one moment to the next. I try really hard not to be disinterested. Because I don’t think this show’s for me. But then that website doesn’t really give much away, other than advising an audience of ‘5+’. So maybe my primary school theory does fit? But then, how are young children supposed to recognise and respond to the paper masks of celebrities and associated references? I barely know who some of them are. There’s a Kim Kardassian (I think), a Prince Harry (yep, got that one), some guy who appears to be a boxer (from the mime that goes along with the masked face), and I think that might be Holly Willoughby presenting an imaginary Oscars. In a Scottish accent. After the polite applause finishes at the end of the show, a bemused woman next to me comments to her partner, ‘Well, that was odd‘. I too find Heroes confused and confusing.

The set, in another situation, could be striking. It’s plain, and geometric, and very high, with an aerial hoop on counterweight from one square arch, and a smaller copy to the left, complete with miniature aerial hoop. A third size of hoop – that remains at ground level – is a Cyr wheel. There’s a cool idea here in the play of scale in the scenography, particularly as the two main performers have miniature doll versions of themselves, also clad in primary coloured casual street movement wear, echoing superhero action figures that we see briefly at the start of the show. But things don’t quite seem cooked yet. Everything looks faintly tentative in direction and decisions, although the performers are competent and committed in carrying off their characters. (Despite the hurried plot point of acknowledging the counterweight performer’s contribution to proceedings, she is not named on the press release, so I’m not sure who to credit half-hidden in supervillain blacks behind the truss). Overall I want more narrative clarity, more energy, more pace, and more purpose.

There is fab potential for the ideas begun in this show but, at this stage, Heroes can’t compete with its venue-mates for family entertainment.

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