Jacksons Lane; 14th Sept 2017
It’s a great feeling when a company uses a quote you have written in their publicity material. It proves value to this critic work, which is so often a labour of love. When that quote is as bold, however, as ‘the most exciting thing to happen to circus theatre in the last decade’, the next time you go to see that company you REALLY hope that you won’t find yourself embarrassed by your previous, very public, impression.
So hoorah for Staged! Using a very different format to the immersive site piece Shelter Me that I saw in 2015, Circumference have again succeeded in throwing the doors of circus possibilities wide open, creating a show that begins with the ponderous pace and beauty of an art gallery installation, before exploding into raw, direct theatre in the most surprising way.
My page of notes begins similarly: neat lines on form and visual quality. Musings on precariousness, illusions of stability and anonymity. Drawings of the slatted wooden platform that hangs in the space between floor, walls and rigging, the way it tilts as performers Aislinn Mulligan, Gemma Palomar and Matt Smith move their bodyweights around its surface. Observations of their tentative management of this treacherous world and the consequences of incautious action.
But the order of my words on the page becomes fragmented as the show goes on. Moments of brilliance in flashes of light or hazy shafts and shadows. Vertigo. A realisation that my senses are disorientated with the continually shifting planes of movement, that I can no longer feel the effort as I normally would. Disrupted kinaesthetic understanding.
And then comes the point where my book is laid aside, my face is plastered with a wide grin, my brain starts tingling, and yes, sometimes I actually hug myself a little, because I am so delighted by what is happening in this room around me. There are no safety lines. This is thrilling. I’m excited. Buzzing. But this is not the usual circus adrenaline kick; Circumference have crafted something rare and revelatory (and, it must be remembered, not everyone likes their expectations shaken. Staged has so far proven itself a deeply Marmite show, with other audience members feeling equal rage to my adoration).
Between the glories of arcing bodies illuminated in the void, the tender struggles towards safety, and the battles to find balance on a constantly shifting playing field, I find myself swept with emotions that my brain doesn’t understand. I’m not sure what they’re for, or what I’m supposed to do with them, but am grateful for the experience.
At first glance, Staged might appear to be another He Who Falls, by Yoann Bourgeois, or Ockham’s Razor’s Arc, because of the unusual apparatus but – most assuredly – it is neither. Circumference have done it again: created adventurous and intelligent performance that gives us room to reflect on the contemporary climate, both within circus, and in our wider society.