‘Lexicon’, by NoFit State

Review from: Roundhouse, London; 18th January 2020

NoFit State have a reputation for making wok that is as skilful as it is beautiful, and Lexicon lives up to that reputation. Starting in a rowdy classroom, full of characters just itching to show their full potential, Lexicon gives a snap shot into the endless possibilities of following your rebellious streak. 

I feel I was a little spoilt, getting to see this show at the Roundhouse. The production’s huge metal structure looked so at home in the architecture of the Roundhouse that you could easily be forgiven for thinking the show had been designed to exist solely in that space. As an aerialist, I couldn’t help but fan-girl over the rigging. As the rest of the audience took their seats around the naughty company members – who were causing trouble and playing for laughs – I was far more taken with the web of ropes and lines crossing overhead. NoFit State are notorious for their elaborate rigging and have outdone themselves with Lexicon – the highlight of which was three lines of flying school desks, complete with the company of rebellious students. A special mention to head rigger Lyndall Merry for bringing this scene to life. 

Lexicon is a heartwarming, feel-good experience, carefully balancing family friendly audience interaction with powerful milestone moments in the characters’ lives, as we see them break out of a mundane reality and let their imaginations take flight. It is fair to say that the run through I saw was not perfect (there were a few failed tricks in the manipulation acts), but if anything this added to the feeling of community between the audience and performers. The ‘all in it together’ atmosphere meant that each drop had the audience wanting more, eager to see the performer try again and succeed. There is something very human about this show, it feels honest. Lexicon leaves me questioning whether this is what is missing in many large scale contemporary circus shows – an added level on intimacy that comes from demonstrations of imperfection. However extraordinary, these performers are still real people.

While I usually try not to let my likes and dislikes come in to reviews, I have to say that there are some strong favourites for me in Lexicon

Firstly, the dexterity of the cast is incredible. The show has a live band (always a winning element for me), but I was a pleasantly surprised to see that many of the circus artists were playing in the band as well as performing their specialist skill, and vice versa. It wasn’t until the opening of the second half that I noticed, when a female cast member who had been part of a group acro scene suddenly resumed her seat at the keyboard and started to play and sing. The sharing of skills and undertaking of multiple roles is another clever device that adds to the feeling of a community where anything goes, reinforcing that there is no separation and no need to label yourself.

Secondly, with my aerialist biased slipping into play, the technique and skill levels of the straps artist (Pablo Meneu) and the rope artist (Rosa-Maria Schmid) were as near perfect as I have ever seen. Effortless accuracy and control, fabulous lines and impressive drops from both had the audience gripped without dampening the lighthearted atmosphere. In a particularly tense moment of the rope act, the lady in front of me exclaimed an audible gasp just as the music fell quiet, which was met with amusement by the people around her. That’s the wonderful thing about this show – as an audience member you feel free to react; the social expectations of the theatre are gone and the freedom of traditional circus audiencing is back with a rustic contemporary twist. 

My final, but maybe my top favourite, is the lovable geek portrayed by unicyclist Sam Goodburn. Adorable, relatable and by far the coolest cast member, complete with sunglasses and drawn on six pack, this oddball clown is a fabulous mirror to the arc of the show. He writes his own story, he makes his own rules and does it all in his own quirky style. Through embracing his uniqueness the underdog comes out of top. A metaphor for circus, maybe? 

Amongst many wonderful moments, clever staging and truly world class skills, I do have a few small niggles. I couldn’t help but find some annoyance in some of the costume choices. This not to say they weren’t well considered in terms of theme and aesthetic – and, for the most part they add to the comical moments, with kilt flashing issues creating many wonderful problems and getting some cheeky giggles from the audience – but I would challenge the choice of skirts for some of the female performers. There were several moments where I lost the performers’ movement as it was covered by layers of falling fabric, especially during the foot juggling (Rosa-Maria Autio) and opening of the slack rope (Vihelmiina Sinervo). There seemed to be a theme of clothes coming off (during the tight wire, slack rope, double ropes and unicycle) and this is a great visual representation of freedom, but personally I found this device a little over used. I also found the traditional heteronormativity of the hand-to-hand act somewhat hard to overlook. Director Firenza Guidi describes the show as a motley crew who are raring to make up their own rules, and for the most part I see the rule breaking come through, so it’s a shame therefore that the trope of the male and female hand-to-hand romance remains intact. 

Niggles aside, I would recommend seeing this show. It’s a playful and wildly passionate piece of contemporary circus that does not take itself too seriously, offering a wonderfully refreshing break from the profoundness of life. After all, not all art needs to be serious. It would appear that NoFit State have done it again, another smashing show! And from the conversations I heard walking to the tube, Lexicon will be remembered and talked about by the audience for quite some time.

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