|Alfa Marks's act Angel|
Photo Credit: Chino Álvarez www.malabart.com
"Lucy to Scratch at Cockpit, Xav to Babysit." This was an entry in the shared home calendar that needed a little explaining... The Cockpit is a theatre up in Marylebone. I was there only a couple of weeks ago to see Two Tongue Theatre in Boys Club (see post - click here). For some time now The Cockpit has been hosting a scratch night - an evening when artists come together to share work in progress and receive feedback - called Theatre In the Pound. This is a reference both to the bargain entrance fee and the fact that the space can be either a conventional auditorium or play in the round. This time The Cockpit had decided to host a circus edition, fruit of a three-way discussion between Artistic Director Dave Wybrow, The Cockpit's Victoria Umanksy, and circus producer and lead programmer, Flora Herberich, reflecting a growing recognition that contemporary circus is so much more than a bag of tricks.
|Q&A with Dave Wybrow, José Triguero & Chris Patfield|
The stage was set. Six white balls on the floor and a huge pile of autumn leaves:
"This is a historic occasion. We haven't seen jugglers at the Cockpit Theatre for 17 years!", announced (warned?!) Dave, ringmaster par excellence, both in apparel and presence. No pressure then! Jugglers have been personae non grata in that space, not because they ballsed up all those years ago when Dave arrived on the scene, but because circus skills were perceived to be superficial, clever in terms of skill, but simply visual entertainment, lacking in content or conceptual depth. Since then, juggling, and contemporary circus as a whole, has been on its own trajectory - see Thomas Wilson's epic account of the evolution of the experimental Gandini company in Juggling Trajectories - click here.
It was fitting then that the evening should open with a double act from José Triguero and Chris Patfield, who I've seen both in Gandini productions, and independently. The autumnal feel created by the russet fallen leaves, was complemented by the depressed nature of Einstürzende Neubaten's "The Garden" (click here and you can listen while you read). José, camouflaged under the leaves, emerged to unzip Chris out of a cocoon-like all-in-one. Their symmetry in movement and clothing (identical black suits with black tops underneath) signalled a play on identity. As they stood side by side, Chris juggling balls and José handfuls of leaves, the sweep of the objects set to the pendulum beat underscoring the music, was utterly mesmerising. The odd escaping leaves fluttering down like rain tied into the lyrics as well. What they did so beautifully was to communicate the urge to hibernate, while being dragged out of yourself, Chris reluctant, José teasing him out. There was clowning around and more serious moments, and the flow of balls intertwined the performers in a precise choreography of patterns that was simply beautiful.
Fresh from winning a Malcolm Hardee award at the Edinburgh Fringe for her show The Molotov Cocktail Party, next up was Becky Fury, and she was pissed off, an antagonistic whirlwind, a Fury in the classic sense, a goddess of vengeance. In her black and white striped leggings she had the aura of a clown: one who looks to provoke, and uses comedy to subvert expectations. Her was a spoken-word comedy, rather than physical mime. Becky Fury's appreciation of the power language can wield and its poetry, (together with her surname!) made me think of Kate Tempest, and Peta Lily (see post on Chastity Belt - click here). Alternating anger with "being quite nice really", and watching Becky Fury in full throttle made me laugh and reminded me of Trump's recent whimper that theatre should be a "safe space". As if. Challenging the audience, needling us to get a rise, Becky took on the meaning of life and was up for some banter.
Closing the first half of the evening was aerialist Alfa Marks on a short rope, set to Massive Attack, Angel was an act that was not so much a work in progress as ready to fly. Alfa was lithe, graceful, sinuous and I wasn't surprised afterwards to learn that she was a dancer by training, bringing that skill-set clearly into evidence in the choreography. It is clear that rope is Alfa's medium, working with the versatility of the kit, the give (as opposed to, say, a fixed pole), melding into it, as one. It was interesting to see that the rope ended a few feet above the stage, rather than with a length coiled on the floor. What that did was enable Alfa to play more with the tail, to use it to spin, and play with coming down at one point and use the floor space but keeping that within the space of an aerial narrative. Click here to see a video of the act from a gala in Spain (cover picture above). It is beyond stunning.
|Alana Jones in Dizzy O'Dare's Rise|
The second half of the evening opened with Dizzy O'Dare's Alana Jones on tightwire and Mike Imerson, sharing their project Rise which had one of the most absurdly beautiful entrances I've ever seen in a circus act. To set the scene: Mike, in a red t-shirt, was on electric guitar, playing a echoing melody that recorded and looped, allowing him to overlay more chords. Alana emerged from the wings, her hair sectioned into ponytails, each end tied to a turquoise helium balloon so that it snaked upwards, think Medusa meets Pippi Longstocking. There was huge potential for clowning as she toyed with this image, but there was also a tender romance at play. An acrobalance duet, Alana carrying Mike on her shoulders at one point, resulted in a striking image as Mike took a pair of scissors and snipped off the balloons, one at a time. A gentle severing. As the balloons floated away, so did the lightness, replaced by tension. Crossing a tightwire is such a precarious skill, sensitive to the tiniest of adjustments, and so the perfect medium to explore the whole notion of balance and trust in the relationship between the two characters, who happen to be partners in real life. As Alana deftly moved across the tightwire towards Mike, who moved up onto a platform at one end, her crossing became a serenade, reaching out to him. Would he join her out on the wire? Was it too much of a risk? There was both laughter and poignancy in the piece. Find out more at www.dizzyodare.com/Rise (click here).
Claire Lenahan is a brilliant comedian cum magician, with a stage presence and likeability factor that engaged the audience immediately. Her recent performance at a cabaret at The Hive in Hackney Wick was a real hit, and Dave at The Cockpit waxed lyrical about her previous incarnation as Cassandra Mary Canary, the ballsy ex-con with a new magic show and attitude to match the mass of peroxide curls. This time, though, Claire was more herself. That is to say, still in a costume, but without the disguise of a wig. With her cropped blond hair, American accent, gamine silhouette in a slim black and white checkered trousers, showman's tails and a top hat that popped out, there was a flash of Ellen Degeneres meets the Artful Dodger meets Barnum selling my kind of humbug. She moved among the audience confidently, with tossaway one-liners, choosing the perfect stooge for an assistant to hold the hooped curtain while she performed an escapology trick. The magic was as much in the way she engaged with the random audience member, conjuring up a hilarious chemistry between them, as the way in which she slipped off the handcuffs. A class act.
Claire has a number of nights where you can catch her coming up:
Mon 28 Nov: headlining at the variety night at The Royal George 8-10pm see www.gabcomedy.com
Jonathan Bendtsen "Daddy Cool" was a diabolo demon, also a cyr wheeler which would be interesting to see, and was pure, unadulterated fun. In a sharp pink suit with a pink sequinned tie, he had that cute, smooth, crooner vibe going, to match the retro-style of "Santa's Got a Hot Rod" and, thinking back to Asher Treleavan on diabolo, I could totally see him take centre stage in La Soirée. Jonathan performed some awesome tricks, up to three diabolos on one string in impressive combinations, and removing his jacket without interrupting his flow. Apparently the shirt also comes off to in "Santa's Stocking" Christmas Cabaret directed by Empress Stah, in a tin can of a Big Top in Elephant and Castle. It's on 24 Nov - 22 Dec: see www.zerocentral.london - click here. The mind boggles.
|Mim Wheeler on Aerial Chains|
Last up was Mim Wheeler on aerial chains, performing to the awesome track "Sail" by Awolnation. Mim entered with a furtive, restless energy in a hoodie, aerosol in hand, like some urban fox. A neat trick actually, as the spray was a sticky roisin for extra grip on her hands, but the audience read it as a graffiti can. All aerial disciplines require roisin to counteract sweat, but I know from pole days how much more unforgiving metal is in terms of the slip, which makes this act all the more hardcore. There's also no give in the metal either, as there is with silks and rope. Despite all that, Mim somehow made ascending the chains look effortless. The noise of the chain links clashing was impressive, and as Mim reached the top and played with the carabineer for one awful moment I thought maybe she was going to release the chains and let them clatter dramatically to the floor, leaving her to just hang up there from the rigging point. That would have been suicidal, of course, but with Mim, you just had a sense that there were no limits, which is what made it so exciting to watch her in action. What she was doing while up there was actually putting extra links in the carbineer to turn the chain into a loop and work more shapes. It was strong, it was fierce, it was exhilarating.
The audience was large, but only a small percentage were circus regulars and it was interesting to hear different voices. The acts were of a very high calibre, and the Q&A session after each act, facilitated with great insight by Dave and Victoria, provided feedback that was positive, supportive and relevant. There will be more of these evenings going forward. Keep an eye out on the Circus in the Pound Facebook Page for further developments, and search out and follow the artists themselves.
Circus in the £pound at The Cockpit
22 November 2016
Performers in order of appearance:
(with Twitter handles where available):
Chris Patfield & José Triguero @jose_triguero82
Becky Fury @beckyfury
Alana Jones & Mike Imerson @Dizzy O'Dare
Claire Lenahan @Lemonhandz