Spiegeltent, Assembly George Sq. Gardens, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 16th August 2016
Like pieces of beautiful flotsam, we are washed through Casus‘ latest production, Driftwood, where human encounters, collisions, and partings are subject to the implacable tide of time and circumstance. The five wordless performers (Kali Retallack, Abbey Church, and company co-founders Natano Fa’anana, Lauchlan McAuley and Jesse Scott) float and tumble over each other and their circus heritage, creating a dust-filled acrobatic current that flows through circus past, present – and, perhaps, future.
The square stage at the centre of the Spiegeltent is bare, with a dark red lampshade that descends into the space and retreats. Any intended symbolism is oblique, but it is a pleasing image that harmonises with the maroon and pale silver costumes of the company. In a Fringe season characterised by gender commentary, Driftwood presents a world where men can wear corsets or kilts (more accurately, the Polynesian lava-lava), and women can bear the weight of an entire company in a solo-based human pyramid.
The show is a series of fleeting acts and personal snapshots that melt into and out of each another. At one point, Fa’anana creates a date for himself out of his own clothes, removed with a sexy twitch of the hips and hung upon a metal contraption. Later, this turns out to be a reinforced head perch that Scott grips from below while McAuley scales the pole to perform a handstand in the wrist-guarded balance grips at the top. Suddenly, this too is gone, and the two women are walking up each other’s bodies from the floor.
Hula hoop and aerial numbers are also characterised by the interchanging of bodies, unusually assisting each other into and out of contact with the equipment; when the performers touch, they are always tender even through the sometime playfulness. Retallack drifts on an aerial hoop, stretching and searching motifs swept away in the tidal pull. In a duet with Church, the floor becomes an extension of a hanging trapeze with choreography that treats each surface with the same weight and transience. As the pair flow away from the trapeze, Scott rolls into it, moving directly from the ground into a handstand on the bar, ankles wrapped around the ropes. Turns are taken on the trapeze – the pair of women, Scott, the pair of women – until it’s the turn of a Washington trapeze to float in and support Scott’s headstand as he is swung between the twin columns of his cast mates, standing now in two-high towers.
A soundtrack that begins with a suggestion of fairground organ and seashore sounds, courtesy of Aphex Twin, goes on to include spectral singing and husky-voiced compositions from artists ranging from Katie Noonan to In Gowan Ring, tied together by the talents of sound designer Javier Langham. Driftwood creates a gorgeous space for Casus to utilise their acrobatic talents, through its music choices, minimalist vintage-inspired aesthetic, and the slight haze that pervades everything.
A false ending that precedes McAuley’s rope act jars a little, as the three-high that came before makes me swear out loud and drop my coffee at its brilliance (imagine rolling backwards into standing position from lying flat on the floor. Now imagine if three people holding each others feet do the same. Yes. That), but Driftwood has so many gems in the sweeping flow of movement that its ebbs are minor indeed. It also makes me think of the search for a circus identity amid the jetsam of history and outside influences that is poignant and timely in itself.