‘My Land’, by Recirquel

Review from: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 18th August 2019

Blazing yellow lights glow steadily over a sand covered stage. An unusually hot day in Edinburgh has prepared this Fringe-goers for the desert we are about to encounter.

My Land explores ideas of ancient myths with humans exploring the land through illusions and ritual. From the Budapest circus Recirquel, and directed by its founder and choreographer, Bence Vági, this show was one of the top shows at the 2018 Fringe. It returns to fill out theatres again.

From the moment the performers first walk onto the sand it is clear we are here for something more than just circus skills. Each act we see blends together through movements and dance. Sand is swished, poured through hands, pulled and rubbed… the sand is a character in this show as much as anyone. A clever stage design sees light shine through the sand at chosen moments and illuminates performers from below, giving the patterns created purpose. Expert use of lights to frame sections of the stage, as well as the atmospheric music, make this circus show follow a theme. And although it isn’t heavily laid on, a story unfolds, of the viewer’s own making. Do we choose to see the movements as praying? Searching for something? Sadness? Or being stranded? All the above and more. Each audience member can read what they wish into these movements. By not spelling things out simply, merely giving us the tools to put our own thoughts to the overall show, it has made this circus extremely accessible.

The skills are all very human and relatable. We are treated to partner acrobatics, hand to hand tricks, contortion, and most unexpectedly a juggling act. Starting at one juggling ball, the two performers continue to raise the stakes for each other until we see both attempt a seven ball qualify. Something like that – fourteen balls being juggled on stage – is the kind of trick usually reserved for specialist juggling conventions and is a rare treat. 

An excellent sign that this circus has crossed the boundary into theatre is that after a trick, which in classical circus creates a pause where an audience would applaud, in My Land, it didn’t feel right to. It felt that through each act – no matter how insanely good the individual trick was – it would break the emotion, the flow, to applaud in the middle. I take this as the highest compliment they could receive. 

The final piece, a free standing ladder act, has me breathless from the very start. Notoriously one of the most dangerous pops a circus artist can choose. It is handled here beautifully, as if a dancing partner, the ever looming threat of a life changing injury never leaves however. The tricks chosen blend so perfectly with the dance choreography unlike any other ladder act I’ve ever seen. Most would present the ladder as a tool, to be climbed and used to highlight the performer’s ability to balance. In My Land, the ladder and performer are equals, pushing and pulling against forces, creating balance on the large stage, not just on the ladder.

The cast of seven return to the stage, now the sand is much more spread about than when we started. Everyone is much more sweaty and worn out too. It’s always great to see circus portrayed with  supreme effort, performers giving their all on the stage. They receive a standing ovation for their efforts.  Rightly so, as what they have created here is surely one of the greatest blends of theatre and circus.

One word of warning however, I sat on the front row and I got sand in my eye.

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