Texting, sexting, manly posing, boyish blushing, girly gossiping, questioning the given gender stereotypes, questioning your sexuality, questioning everyone else’s sexuality, finding out who and what you are, coming out, wanting your best friend’s boy, morphing from mouse to vamp, playing with BDSM, finding true love… Oh Lord, aren’t you glad, so glad you are no longer young?
Filament is, say producing company Short Round Productions, inspired by 1980s teen films – following eight characters and their coming-of-age stories. The piece has been put together by creative producer Joseph Pinzon, who trained at the National Circus School in Montreal, and as a performer worked with big name Quebecois companies such as Soleil and Cirque Eloise. New York based Paul McGill is the very able choreographer. The show is backed by an impressive number of co-producers, including Aurora Nova’s Wolfgang Hoffman, and features (as so many circus shows do) an evolving international cast.
Like most coming-of-age tales, it is appealing less to teenagers (although anyone would like Filament, I’m sure) than to those of use looking back with adult knowing.
Every character has their through-line, but the one that takes my attention is that of the gentle boy who needs to learn to back flip, played by the UK’s own Tom Ball. His soft and subtle trapeze work, which – as the music builds – moves into a tortured expression of teenage angst, is spot-on. He plays his character with great aplomb, and the denouement of his storyline, in which he ends up with his gay-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet macho friend, is dealt with sensitively. Tom was previously seen in Silver Lining: Throwback, which has not dissimilar themes to Filament, although very different in style and tone.
In a parallel story line, contortionist Allison Schieler plays the bespectacled, sweet but uncool girl Leslie, whose friends rally round to help her ditch the specs, remake herself, overcome her shyness, and get her boy – and the punchline is, he loves her specs! Her finale contortion act, as sinuous as a snake, enchanting ‘CD’ and making him her own, is terrific – and an unusual choice for an ending act, putting the emphasis on the narrative need rather than going for whatever is the showiest.
Skills-wise, we get the full contemporary circus gamut throughout the show: a gorgeous hooping routine from Jess Mews (to ‘That’s Not My Name’); aerial trapeze (as mentioned), silks/straps from Anna Kichtchenko, and hoop (Bekah Burke); the sort of juggling I like best from Bertan Canbeldek, soft and sensuous, dancing the balls downwards in the space; smooth hand balancing from Mark Keahi Stewart; Cyr wheel from the feisty Oscar Kaufmann; and some lovely acro/hand-to-hand ensemble sections that includes the famous Dirty Dancing lift (the best ever 1980s coming of age movie, IMHO).
Whilst watching the piece, I loved the circus acts, and admired the way the whole piece was put together – it is a series of acts, but they are weaved well into the storyline, everything is well executed, and nothing feels out of place. At first, I felt some reservation about the gender stereotyping – but as the piece progresses this is gently usurped, and I was won over. Like the films it references, it is a gentle and whimsical reflection on the teenage years.
In some ways, the show reminds me of the work of Les 7 Doigts – unsurprisingly, as they have been such trailblazers on the Montreal scene, and they have also made a show about growing up and coming of age stories (at least one of this current cast has performed with them).
But Filament is a strong enough piece to stand its own ground – a really delightful and heartwarming show that I feel will stay with me longer than some of the more bombastic circus work seen at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.