This trio of diverse works was neatly held together by a golden thread of laudable professionalism, evident in high production values and skilful performances.
Circus-based theatre is on a popular high, right now, with successful touring companies somersaulting to London, regularly, and Living Room Circus should be joining that elite some time soon. This was a slick and enjoyable mix of absorbing surreality, fascinating ideas and polished dexterity, studded with a couple of breathtaking tricks. This ‘story of a morning after the night before’ has a taciturn (and very large) penguin haunting the man who has had a few too many. He also daydreams that the sofa is molesting him, hands appearing from every crevice, before being consumed within the fabric. Said man (choreographer, Jason Dupree) later plays the piano – his own composition – blindfolded. Josh Frazer excels in an intimate Cyr Wheel – and plastic bags – routine; and outstanding hand-to-hand acrobatics punctuate the action. This was an extract of a full-length show that I must see!
Retrospect Dance Theatre presented a tough and compelling essay on destructive domestic violence. An atmospheric, hazy opening – self-lit by the performers, switching on standing lights – was excellent and both Christopher Thomas and Hannah McGlashon danced fluidly and with chemistry; the violent apache dance sequences being especially traumatic. Substantial passages of spoken text were, however, less well-delivered with some passages, indistinct. Nonetheless, it was a courageous and absorbing work.
The Dude Joint was another extract of a larger work – by Jade Hackett – that I’d also like to see. This tough tale of familial love in a black matriachal household of servants in the American South, focuses on the mother (a superb cameo by Caramel Jones) who is both master and servant. Ajani Goffe-Johnson, Corey Somefun and a brooding Stefano Addae were excellent as the three sons. It is an important piece – benefiting from some expert input (Mikey J Asante on sound, for example) and one that deserves wider exposure.
Although only a short extract from a full-length show, The Penguin & I managed to transport me into its surreal world of acrobatics and intriguing characters, with a light-hearted humour but never trivial. What looks like an ordinary man seated on a sofa in a living room is soon involved in a series of bizarre encounters. The set design is a real surprise, hands and arms magically appear from behind and below the couch revealing the presence of three strange characters. There’s even a penguin, in a role that I have not yet been able to identify, possibly an alter ego or simply an unsettling presence. Living Room Circus’ hypnotic balancing tricks and astounding physicality make The Penguin & I a remarkable piece.
In Light of Those You Love is an immersive theatrical experience, raw and real. Katherine (Hannah McGlashon) and Tom (Christopher Thomas), a couple going through a marriage crisis, fight and blame each other for being miserable until they get to the point of putting in doubt the definition of insanity. Combining spoken word and dance, the performance shifts between real life and dream. Their exceptional theatrical abilities effectively convey the ruthless drama, and the choreography, at times smooth and fluid but mainly made of energetic contact and tense entanglements, reflects the violence. Particularly suggestive is the use of lights, allowing dancers to play with light bulbs at their own pace.
Jade Hackett’s work takes on the theme of slavery from a different perspective, showing the strength and resilience of black culture, and investigating the idea of familial love that generated from it. The Duke Joint alternates moments of brutal drama with satirical theatre, all coloured with captivating hip hop moves. Some scenes are particularly strong, like when a slave in chains walks in or when all four of them are checked – mouth and genitals – before being sold. There’s a lot on stage, probably 20 minutes is not enough to grasp the whole depth of the piece. I would be really keen on watching the full-length show to delve deeper into the topic.