Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

ImMortal

NoFit State Circus , Pembroke Dock , August-24-04
The enormous silver tent is divided into inner performance space and a rim to one side with a bar. I arrived early with a friend and her ten-year-old son and we watched the slow drift of people coming in. A general buzz of excitement. Children and some adults peered through the mesh trying to see what was happening inside. It started with a man standing on a counter surreptitiously cradling a pair of high heels or peeling an apple, a woman typing on an old fashioned typewriter, another man is having a bath high up near the roof, blowing bubbles, a woman sitting on a high platform methodically pulling petals from a daisy: 'he loves me, he loves me not.'

Before we even entered into the circus space conventions of normality, even those associated with the circus, were suspended: people in strange costumes doing strange things were scattered amongst and above the crowd in every direction. A man wandered through the crowd playing an accordion and muttering. Children leapt to catch small packages lowered from on high on a fishing line; they contained tea bags and the message, 'have a drink on me.'

The circus may once have been the allowed place of carnival, a dangerous, exciting erotic space but it has long been cleaned up and sanitised, turned into tame fare with bored beasts and slapstick clowns, a clean ring, comfortable chairs and an authoritarian ringmaster keeping all at a distance, under control. But NoFit State Circus is the real thing; vivid, intense, dangerous. They have no mediating figure of authority. The performers moved through and around us: we stood next to them as they rose on the ropes, we can see the way that one of the women, twelve feet above us, grips the rope with her toes, we could see the flex and shift of muscles as the men hauled (seemingly effortlessly) on the ropes and, as one of the women swung wildly up into the roof, we heard her laboured breathing through a mike. Then, out of this seeming chaos, a flight of black-coated figures floated up on ropes like demonic angels. The figures coiled and twisted on ropes as if air was water and they were swimming in it. One bright-eyed little girl next to me gazed up at a tumbling woman and breathed 'Oh, she's brave;' equally awestruck, her friend whispered back: 'I wouldn't do that'- but she sounded as if she would have liked to.

So many extraordinary images: a bride shooting up into the air and progressively unravelling the hoops of her twenty-foot skirt while around that white expanse bizarrely-clad figures waltzed to the band; or, more humorously, a man somersaulting above our heads in a kilt, repeatedly tucking his skirts up with pantomime embarrassment. But the performance rested on the way that those moments were paced and integrated into a seamless whole: the individual act balanced against ensemble work, spiralling figures on high followed by a quieter moment of perfect control as (for example) three purple-lit women stood on a small stage, casually drinking glasses of water while spinning fluorescent hula hoops. All the elements were held together by a varied musical backdrop supplied by the gypsy/blues influenced band that played on a side stage throughout.

I do not mention any of the many performers by name because this was very much an ensemble piece that gained its overall impact through the interrelation of its various elements and on a building sense of infectious delight evoked by the total engagement of each individual. Its brilliant director, Firenza Guidi, had developed a loose narrative that held the performance together but although this was in part explained in the programme, I thought it more necessary for the players than for the audience. I think that it was essential for the players to have a sense of how the varied elements could be integrated into a whole but for us they appeared with the vivid sense of an inexplicable but deeply meaningful dream. We heard certain names again and again, we recognised the figures, we saw love, joy, anger, sexual delight; all of which drew us emotionally to the kaleidoscopic performance before us. This emotional bond was what mattered not the narrative in its detail. What was left was a series of elation and beauty at the end.

My friend?s son was very quiet as we left for Swansea. What do you think? I asked him. I envy those children, he sighed.

Reviewed by: JenI Willams

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