‘Flown’, by Pirates of the Carabina

Warwick Arts Centre, 29th May 2013

The carabinas in this company’s name, most often seen on climber’s harnesses in industry and alps, are an essential piece of kit for the performance rigging and human counterweighting techniques that feature heavily in the show, pioneered by company founders Barnz Munn and his partner Shaena Brandel.

Despite these latest innovations however, this is contemporary circus that fullyIMG_0596 acknowledges its place within an evolving culture of circus performance, with a traditional big-top styled set that young children entering the theatre automatically recognise .

The production combines all the circus staples; supreme clowning, impressive feats of strength and acrobatic skill, fluid grace, and daring surprise – and even includes a tongue-in-cheek horse act!  The audience are also reminded time and again of the underlying element of risk that the performers dice with and, in the matinee production I attended, a very real and unchoreographed fall was smoothly dealt with in that most pragmatic and professional circus way – the show must go on.

There is no narrative structure pretended at, and the set piece acts are strung together with touchingly comic monologues that give us glimpses of the human souls behind the glitter.  The live musical accompaniment is provided by the company, and particularly Tia Kalmaru and her armoury of ten different instruments.  We are treated to simple piano notes with a dub-edge, orchestral violins and folky vocals, as well as a strange interlude presented through a giant megaphone in homage to ‘a cold can of Special Brew calling my name’, and a pair of boots that Barnz, apparently, ‘really likes’.   As with much of the written material, devised by the company and directed by James Williams, there is adult humour sneaked in alongside the more family friendly jokes and comic sketches.

Highlights for me were a tender and romantic doubles chinese pole act between Laura Moy and Barny Wreyford, and the hilarious aerial clowning of Gwen Hales attempting to give us a standard glamourous silks act, but getting hauled instead into an ingenious pulleyed cloud-swing and flung around the stage by the three heavily sweating men on the counterweight team.

This is a very funny show, and we feel the performers are present with us.  IMG_0597

The company interact naturally with the audience but, in a formal proscenium arch theatre venue, it is difficult for many of us to leave our conditioned  behaviours behind and fully respond in kind.  The two six-year old boys in the front row have no such qualms however; they happily come to fill out the front seats as requested by the performers who approach the stage through the auditorium.  They then proceed to comment heartily throughout, bouncing up and down in their seats, calling out jokes to bemused clown Hales, and warning ‘That’s dangerous!’ as Jaakko Tenhunen begins his hand balance act less than three feet away from them.  When I point out Barnz’ counterbalance work during Moy’s solo swinging pole act, I am treated to an earnest explanation of how ‘When he goes up, that thing goes down. When it goes up, he goes down.’  Who says circus can’t be educational?  That’s physics right there!

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