Three women of different ages, dressed in odd-bod multi-coloured knitted sportswear, make separate entrances, rolling, tumbling or running in from different parts of the Spiegeltent. They group around a table covered in a crocheted blanket. Two have chairs, one has forgotten her chair (she steals one from an audience member, giving him the blanket). ‘Hello ladies and gentlemen’ says one. Oh. Can’t we have something ungendered? How about using ‘ladies’ like some people use ‘guys’, to mean everyone? ‘Hello ladies!’ No, that’s not working. Ladies is so – genteel, upper class. What collective noun is there for a crowd of people? ‘Hello – crowd!’ All this whilst negotiating a stack of chairs and bodies moved into different alignments.
So right from the outset, the stage is set for what the next hour will contain. Challenges to gendered language. Snorting at stereotypical views of the female body. Sly humour. Clowning. Rumbunctious acrobatics. Hardcore circus skills weaved into a playful exploration of sexual politics.
Lists too – they like lists. Lists of things to do, for a start – recited whilst tumbling or crawling through chairs, or handstanding on tables – phone the dentist, book a handyperson to mend the toilet, buy almond milk and miso paste, take care of the kids, the dog and the dying cat. Life’s a balancing act. The chairs are now stacked up, and our three heroines scramble up and over them and each other as they give us their rendition of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. One of the many joys of this gorgeous show is that there is no soundtrack – the physical action is accompanied throughout by a continuous flow of talking, singing, humming. Women’s voices making themselves heard.
Taking us on the journey are Knit (Spenser Inwood, at 29 the youngest of the three, acrobat, trapeze base and creator of the costumes); Slip (Debra Batton, 58, veteran performer of Circus Oz and director of Legs on the Wall); and Pearl (Sharon Gruenert, a 41-year-old Circus Oz acrobat and flyer). Although all come with extraordinary CVs and circus pedigrees – especially Debra! – this is their first show together.
More lists: I’m a perky dresser, says one. I never overshare, says another. I only eat when I’m hungry, says the other. Well, they’ve certainly been taking on board the advice fed constantly to women from magazines advice columns, blogs, vlogs, and whatever else.
The almost-30-year-old Knit (now perched in the roof-space on a metal cradle) wonders if people will take her seriously now. Slip asks if she takes herself seriously. Did you take yourself seriously at 30? We were older then at 30 than you are now, comes the reply. The serious conversation is interrupted by Pearl tearing through the auditorium on on a kiddie’s tricycle – upside down and with a balloon between her legs becoming her new head. Another joy of this joyous show is the use of the whole almost-in-the-round Spiegeltent space – stage, thrust, aisles, audience…
Even more lists: juxtaposed lines of what seems to be family biography: ‘She was born as the war ended…’ ‘She got getting married and getting pregnant in the wrong order…’ As the racing round the space stops and the three women re-group on stage, the idea of generational wisdom passed down through the female line is manifested beautifully in a triple-tower, woman standing on the shoulders of woman, as mother, grandmother, great-grandmother are cited. Later, ’Live dangerously’ comes the advice, as three chairs and two tables are stacked up and mounted, topped off with a handstand. ‘Handstands make me happy’ says Slip.
Eventually, that cradle high in the roof space does get used for the anticipated aerial act – Knit and Pearl swing, fly and catch with breathtaking ease whilst Slip looks on, admiringly.
Casting Off is a joy: these three wonderful women have knitted together a truly extraordinary piece of feisty feminist circus that is fabulously funny to boot!