Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, reflects (in his own inimitable way) on circus seen at Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Both rich and slim pickings this year – some great work, some brave work. Not quite enough brave work: venues need to get out and explore circus more. But there was much to love in 2016.
A couple of years ago I wrote a circus round-up at the Edinburgh Fringe in which I compared every show to a band, combining my two passions – circus and music. This year I’m going one step further – a band and an album. Consider this review a triple-vinyl-gatefold-remastered reissue of my time in Edinburgh in 2016.
Joli Vyann: Imbalance
Put down that iPhone, switch off Pokemon Go and listen to me – this is two bodies questioning technology and relationships today. Whilst the content would have benefitted from a smaller and calmer space, Jan and Olivia draw you in to their world and create some intrinsic fusions of intense acrobalance and dance that left some of this audience open-mouthed. Ok, it’s a well-trodden subject matter, but the first time explored in this way, from a company that continues to grow and explore.
Emma Serjeant: Grace
Repetitive, juddering movement and (con)textual acrobatics combine to tell a story of a life half-lived, and how loss can be hard to comprehend where a loved one is concerned. Whilst the ending broke the spell somewhat, for the first 45 minutes Sergeant seamlessly infused her myriad range of skills with a narrative that was hypnotic and beguiling. With a little less thought, Grace could be pitch-perfect.
Album: Lou Reed: Magic and Loss
Ockham’s Razor: Tipping Point
Our Total Theatre Award recipients for 2016, this is a show that gets better with repeated viewing. Ensemble work par-excellence, it’s great to see Ockham’s progress from the gentle ‘friendship’ circus for which they are known so well, to something with more daring, dexterity and risk. Inventive like no other circus on the fringe, the audience was transfixed by the almost scientific and mathematic approach to acrobalance and the Chinese pole. A worthy winner.
Album: Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreak (it’s to do with timing and balance…)
Silver Lining and Jacksons Lane: Throwback
Ok, maybe I had a small hand in producing this but that‘s no reason to ignore 60 minutes of pure circus joy. Packed audiences swooned and swayed at the 90s memories (yes, they’re that young) as we joined in, sang along, marvelled at a three-high Officer and a Gentleman tribute, and whooped at juggling feet, duo handbalancing, and the best Michael Jackson/Beatles straps mash-up you’re ever going to see.
Album: Various Artists: Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 73
Lost in Translation Circus: The Hogwallops
Returning from its success in 2015, Lost in Translation have created a massively accessible show for all ages with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in – maybe even an oven or two. Cloud, acro, cradle and a whirling zimmer frame, the Italian family flavours mixed with (Roald) Dahl are an intoxicating brew that sends you out beaming.
Album: Goblin: Profondo Rosso (Google it)
Company Here and Now: Perhaps Hope
Again, like Joli Vyan, not the sexiest subject matter to dive in to when you’re fighting against so much cabaret and frivolity at the Fringe, and once more the venue was possibly a little mis-judged (Laurie Anderson versus a waltzer outside the tent playing Whigfield – not sure that was their intention) but this was a very brave work about climate change that needed tranquility and focus for an audience to reflect. It’s an abstract piece that is beautifully constructed and performed across circus genres by a very accomplished duo. But I need to see it again – somewhere where the planet is less crowded.
Upswing: Bedtime Stories
A dreamy way to spend a morning. I’d like to say ‘too good for kids’ but the little ones need to see aerial circus-theatre like this – gentle, beguiling, perfectly pitched and in many ways so nostalgic in the safe and savvy hands of Vicki Amedume. Children should take their parents to show them how it’s done.
Album: Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
Natalie Reckert: Selfie With Eggs
I’ve already compared this to Kraftwerk – robotics and German techno make it hard not to – but this is so much more than a 70s KlingKlang tribute. A feat of skill, endurance and impeccable comic timing, Reckert is as compelling as any performer I have seen this year. Messy in the best way, precise and pointedly abstract, Selfie with Eggs crawls under your virtual skin and takes you sci-fi vogueing.
Album: Aphex Twin: Syro
Gandini Juggling and Plastic Boom: Water on Mars
A gravity-defying synthetic orgy of three boys and their toys, this is juggling reinvented for the 21st century. Exhilaratingly post-modern (but nowhere near as pretentious as that statement) the audience is taken to pressure point as everything they can get their hands on is thrown, flipped, caught, balanced and beaten into submission. The most fun I had in a theatre this year.
Head First Acrobatics: Elixir
Sexy zombie circus? Well don’t mind if I do sir. This is a no-brainer with brains (and was that another Michael Jackson routine?). Where some work suffered in a noisy tent, Elixir positively thrived in its late-night slot. A loose pseudo-medical narrative gave a vehicle to some stupendous skills and joyous dance from these sensational young clowns which made us holler and howl.
And that’s all for another year, circus kids.
Photo above, and featured image at top of page are: Ockham’s Razor: Tipping Point.
Photos by Mark Dawson.
Ockham’s Razor: Tipping Point won the Total Theatre and Jacksons Lane Award for Circus at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016. Emma Serjeant: Grace, Company Here and Now: Perhaps Hope, and Gandini Juggling/ Plastic Boom: Water on Mars were shortlisted for the Awards in this category. See Reviews section for words by other writers on Grace, Water on Mars, Perhaps Hope, Bedtime Stories, Elixir, and Selfie With Eggs.
Jacksons Lane is a venue (and more) in Highgate, North London – a cultural and creative hub offering the best in contemporary theatre and circus, a wide range of arts-based classes and activities, and a large-scale outreach programme for hard-to-reach communities. See www.jacksonslane.org.uk