For anyone who saw and loved the feel-good romps Cantina or Scotch & Soda, or the clever homage to circus tradition She Would Walk the Sky, the news that the creator of these shows, Company 2, were now making a piece inspired by Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground might be received with alarm. But fear not, Sediment is a beautiful and accessible piece of circus-theatre, reprising many favourite motifs from the company’s previous work, including breathtaking hand-to-hand routines, angsty battle-of-the-sexes apache-dance encounters, and even the old favourite bottle-walking act…
The show is more a ‘response to’ than a ‘version of’ Dostoevsky’s novella. Notes from the Underground is only really there as a catalyst, a bringer of ideas to the table – ideas that include the notion of the unreliable narrator; the plight of modern man (and here I do mean ‘man’ not ‘human’) perplexed by the ways of the world; the obsession with – and the fear of – the desired encounter with the object of desire; the constant torment of imagination and memory intruding upon the present moment.
Here’s how this plays out in Sediment…
The immensely talented David Carberry is ‘the man’. We first meet him wriggling and twitching and flinching in a chair centre-stage. To his left, an old upright piano, to his right a vintage TV set, the screen displaying fizzing black-and-white lines and a white-noise hum.
Behind a gauze screen, the desirable ‘other’ (Alice Muntz) is seen in silhouette, a Lottie Reiniger cut-out in layered lace petticoat and camisole, slowly twirling her hoop. As the two come together for the first of many beautiful duets, she continues to hoop as he does all he can to break into her circle. He fails, but manages to lift her by one foot, as she continues to hoop without even a moment’s pause with hardly any acknowledgement of his presence, other than occasionally swatting him away as if he were an annoying fly. Such skilled choreography! It’s gorgeously low-key in tone, whilst being simultaneously immensely highly skilled, something of a trait of this show. Choreography is credited to Chelsea McGuffin, who with Carberry is co-director of Company 2. – Carberry gets a director credit, with Muntz listed as co-performer and co-creator, so we’ll just applaud everything on show in Sediment as a wonderful joint effort.
Now she’s tearing sheets of paper – poems or letters, perhaps even Dostoevsky’s own writing – and with each rip, his body responds as if it is itself being torn. As their relationship develops – although always with a push-and-pull, they never fully acquiesce to each other – we are treated to some of most fluid and sensuous dance-circus duets you’re likely to see.
And sound, used so cleverly to drive the dramaturgy of the show. Recorded: the hiss of the TV, the crackles of an old record player, the soft notes of vintage jazz, an old Music Hall classic, a cowgirl waltz. Live: the clatter of a typewriter, a strummed guitar and prepared piano (him), a zither (her). And a minimal amount of spoken text, used for its rhythm and musicality: ‘You wrote…’ ’You wrote me a letter… ‘ ‘You wrote me a letter and I… ‘ ’You wrote me a letter and I keep it in a box beside my bed.’ Delivered by her as he continuously pulls the microphone from her.
We never know quite where we are – the past, the present, inside his head? – but rather than this being confusing, it creates a dream-like, layered and nuanced stage world in which memory and imagination are as real as anything else. And the inanimate objects in this world – the musical instruments, typewriters, papers, bottles, hoop, trapeze – exist as things with magical, fetishistic qualities to be fought over for possession. Often, the two communicate to each other via the objects rather than in a clear and direct physical relationship. Existential angst and melancholic pathos permeate every scene, although often teamed with wry humour.
As for the circus turns: there is a great deal of pure unadulterated top-notch circus skill on display – including some of the best hand-to-hand work currently on show at the Fringe or indeed anywhere else – and there is also much usurping of expectations. A Saw the Lady in Half act which starts with the lady sawing herself in half, and ends – well, let’s just say in an unexpected manner. A solo trapeze number from Carberry in which he appears to fall, to land in stillness in a toe-hang, just inches from the ground, looking all the world like a hanged man, and enters into a kind of battle with the trapeze, ducking under and over it; and an absolutely gorgeous soft-shoe shuffle inspired ‘rubber legs’ sand dance, also Carberry.
Although both he and Alice Muntz are brilliant, it is David Carberry’s show – he had the original idea, and Sediment is in many ways a showcase for his phenomenal talents as a contemporary circus performer. It is a great achievement, very different in atmosphere (if not in skills) to the company’s previous work – a truly surprising and inspiring circus-theatre show.
‘It seems that we may stop here.’