views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Simple Space
The Udderbelly, Southbank
26th April 2015


Gravity and Other Myths

Photography © Chris Herzfeld

When I was young, I had an enormous teddy bear. Honestly, she was as tall as a giant. A giant, I tell you! Well, maybe not, but our memories of our own childhoods are often significantly more impressive than was actually the case. Circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths have travelled half way around the world (this time I'm not exaggerating, they're really from Australia) to present their show A Simple Space. It features so many nostalgic games the way we remember them, rather than the way they truly were. Wanting to go faster and higher on the swings? Leapfrogging over friends? Playing with balloons? They all form part of this performance with the imagination and pure whimsy of innocents, but the strength, dexterity and jawdropping physicality of trained professionals.

The show opens with a theatrical version of a typical trust exercise: the performers one by one announce that they are falling, and the others rush to catch them. Sometimes they miss - but strangely it's never one of the girls (Rhiannon Cave-Walker and Jascha Boyce) who are dropped, and never anyone from a height that matters. It's almost as if the company make some deliberate insignificant mistakes in an attempt to ramp up the danger factor in their trickier more technical moves. Sneaky bunch of... It doesn't quite work because we have an instant confidence in their abilities, but there are nonetheless plenty of heart-in-mouth moments. Don't worry, you won't be bored.

There's no safety net, and at times the performers stack on top of each other, standing on their shoulders until there are three people propped up - if it wasn't for the roof of the Udderbelly tent, they might even reach higher. It's a very long way to fall. However, this is a troupe which is their own safety net: all members are quite happy to be stood on and thrown around by their fellow acrobats, obviously trusting the other's skill. And they all have a shot at being the centre of attention: A Simple Space comes across as very much a collaborative piece. There are no egos, only a phenomenal amount of talent and mock competition.

Gravity and Other Myths

Photography © Chris Herzfeld

Many of the different sequences are presented as games: who can do something the best? And for the longest? At one point, Lachlan Binns, Jacob Randell, Martin Schreiber, Daniel Liddiard, Triton Tunis-Mitchell and Cave-Walker have a back-flipping contest. They pick up the pace, one by one they bow out until there is a champion, and you dare not blink just in case you miss a fraction of a second of the seemingly frenetic blur of moving bodies in front of you. It's utterly hypnotic.

Drummer Elliot Zoerner adds some beats to what generally sounds like a simple prerecorded keyboard track, and from time to time leaves his post to play with the other seven - oh yes, I do mean "play". As staggeringly slick as this show is, there's a real sense of fun in every moment. When it comes to circus acts, you need to feel like the people in front of you are having a good time, or the tension becomes unbearably awkward, and you certainly are left in no doubt that everyone on this stage is having a hoot. As well as twisting his body into impossible shapes like the others, Zoerner also shows off some further more unusual musical talent. We've seen mouth music at the Southbank before, but this uses his entire body.

A Simple Space may only be 60 minutes long, but despite its apparent brevity and uncomplicated title, this is very much worth parting with your cash for. There are no lions and tigers and bears or fancy decorations - the most ostentatious thing is the venue itself, a purple upside down cow - but that means there's nothing for this group of eight to hide behind. What you see is what you get, and what you see is the human form defying all normal limits. A fascinating way to pass an hour.

A Simple Space ran from 21st April to 24th May 2015 at the Udderbelly, Southbank.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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