While its Oxford Road site is renovated, the ever-innovative Contact theatre is staging productions at partner venues. Hence this co-production with Ockham’s Razor, one of the leaders of British Circus Theatre, takes place in the massive, yet enormously underused, Upper Campfield Market Hall.
With its height and space, it’s an ideal choice for an aerial theatre show, with a thrilling sense of intimacy lent to proceedings by having the audience seated circus-style around a stage marked out by a series of metallic beams stretching to the lofty ceiling.
The double-bill opens with Switch, an admirably inventive piece devised by nine young performers along with Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch, the artistic directors of Ockham’s Razor. To a live soundtrack composed and played by Bellatrix, the nine dancers, using wooden staffs, switch back and forth from threatening martial art moves to more playful activities, with the youthful cast demonstrating impressive technique and enthusiasm. Although the piece is quite capable of standing alone, its cleverness becomes more apparent once the audience has subsequently seen Tipping Point.
Devised and performed by Sadiq Ali, Alex Harvey, Emily Nicholl, Telma Pinto and Steve Ryan – and again directed by Mooney and Koch – Tipping Point is an exhilarating, touching, playful and often funny show in which the impressive aerial acrobatics are used to explore issues of trust and betrayal, with a hint of sexual politics.
It’s thrilling and nerve-racking to watch, with the many and various acrobatic moments structured as a series of challenges between the performers. Although humour is skilfully mixed with the danger, it’s increasingly apparent that, skilled as the five aerialists may be, they each depend on the help, support and, yes, love of their colleagues to achieve their impressive feats.
The set-up is deceptively simple with the only props a series of heavy metal poles about 18 feet in length, poles with which the aerialists constantly interact as if they were other characters. They are also used to form the chalk circle within which they perform, apparently a reflection of the creation in pagan magic ‘of a safe and sacred enclave which at once offers protection from external forces and creates a portal through which to encounter them’.
In a more traditional circus-style event, this would no doubt have all led up to some sort of wham-bang ending. Here it ends quietly and calmly as the performers gather to witness the creation of another series of circles and gleefully reflect on what they have created over the preceding, rather wonderful, hour of entertainment and magic.
(Main Image: Ockham’s Razor, Tipping Point, Mark Dawson Photography)