‘Beyond’, by Circa

London Wonderground, 3rd June 2013

The hazy mirrored interior of the Spiegeltent, and the classic European signage outside, evoke in me even hazier memories of the movie ‘Cabaret’, with its volatile atmosphere.  The feeling that Circa’s Beyond is not going to be wholesome family fun is only heightened when the show is opened by a contortionist who, disturbingly, fixes each of us with a piercing stare before scurrying away from the central raised stage as the calliope-style music starts, and the tumblers throw themselves forward to introduce the evening’s entertainment.

Spiegeltent at London Wonderground
Spiegeltent at London Wonderground

Rowan Heydon-White, the matriarch of this strange troupe of black and white creatures, (who, in another world, might have been labelled ‘ring-mistress’), announces that ‘Inside each of us is an animal.  And also a person.  But sometimes the line is unclear.’  The company certainly play between the two, exploring the subtleties of dominance and sex which characterise all animal and human behaviour, and subverting whatever rules they can.  This is particularly explicit in their reversal of the traditional flyer/catcher roles; in Beyond, women base the acrobalance and aerial acts, and men nimbly perform the more decorative functions in the air.

Surreal animal heads appear and disappear, masking the performers own, straight out of the furry fandom subculture.  They have some amusement value in their novelty, but the performers excel in their physical prowess rather than their comic engagement.

The first few acts are characterised by a strong acrobatic and contact dance flavour, with a mesmerising stirrups act from the eerily bending Bridie Hooper who eyes us with a look that, if not malevolent exactly, suggests that no good is going to come of us.  Paul O’Keeffe presents a tender pas de deux with an A4 piece of paper, which is far more effective than his faux-fall routine in furry lion costume.

My heart is in my mouth as he somersaults into a hocks hold with his head only inches from the floor, caught by Heydon-White on the low trapeze as part of their electric doubles routine; and a disbelieving grimace erupts among the audience as the pair attempt a jaw-hang.

The soundtrack of cabaret classics – from ‘New York, New York’ via ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ to a German version of ‘Strangers in the Night’ – keeps us close enough to our familiar world to highlight its surreal truths and the ridiculousness of being alive.  I am kept on the edge of my seat eagerly anticipating what bizarre spectacle may materialise next.

Heydon-White and O’Keeffe. Source

The placing of Gerramy Marsden’s act is inspired, adding to his natural comic pacing and charm to create a very funny rolla bolla and block juggling act, for which he receives the biggest applause so far.

Billie Wilson-Coffey’s silks act lacks magic until it becomes a tug of war to Rage Against The Machine, developing into a doubles act with Heydon-White.

We are also treated to an invigorating symbolic shrouding, the appearance of a chinese pole and Skip Walker-Milne in a bear suit, and a take on the famous fit-through-a-tennis-racquet routine that again reminds us of our cabaret venue setting.  In Beyond, however, the provocations and alternate realities offered take us deeper than just a series of skilled acts; if these were starred reviews, this would get the full 5.

All members of this tiny troupe are talented performers, but Hooper, Heydon-White and O’Keeffe are each phenomenal.  Put them together, under the direction of circus visionary Yaron Lifschitz – who has headed up the Australian company since it evolved from the ailing Rock and Roll Circus in 2004 – and something astounding cannot fail to appear.

Even I didn’t realise how deeply I’d been affected, until surprising myself with sudden tears watching the company’s final construction against a soundtrack of ‘The Impossible Dream’; for, after all, isn’t this how all we crazy human animals dream?

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