Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 6th July 2018
“With slightly more clarity of vision, Peepshow could be a microscopically sharp piece of circus theatre”
C!RCA’s latest rippling creation is about looking and being seen, and it’s certainly hard to tear your eyes away. Blink, and you’ll miss a dazzling physical escapade, as the ensemble of seven weave, flex, swing and fly across and above Underbelly’s circus tent. The matter of this show is marvellous and the skill of the performers endlessly impressive. With slightly more clarity of vision, Peepshow could be a microscopically sharp piece of circus theatre.
The first half an hour or so of the show was a little frayed around the edges. This did not impact the quality of the individual numbers, but it made the overall result feel a little uneven. Transitions on and off stage and between the first four or five numbers were a little abrupt, and in danger of verging on mediocre physical theatre. These were not so clunky that they distracted from the content, but they detracted somewhat from the emotional impact. The first few pieces hinged on thematic developments of the peep show premise, but occasionally there seemed to be a clash of styles. Seductive choreographed moments, curtailed inexplicably by a coughing fit, were a slightly confused diversion. Often, this freakiness went down a treat, particularly when a cheeky strip-tease turned into shocking audience participation, playing on the idea of the audience as voyeur. But sometimes, Peepshow tried to do too many tones at once.
The direction of Yron Lifschitz, supported by Associate Libby McDonnell, was frequently beautiful, inventive and striking. The show’s dynamic final ensemble number, which totalled over a third of the entire duration, was a masterclass in shows of this genre. Well-paced, showcasing all the performers’ talents, accompanied by a gradually layered, pared back rhythmic track, this was Peepshow at its peak. The performers (who were not all listed in my programme, but I’ll mention everyone I can) were all equally strong, and supported one another seamlessly. Jessica Connell and Ela Bartilomo gave particularly expressive and daring performances, and the persistent commitment of all the ensemble is utterly admirable. Many of the stunts took my breath away.
For the most part, Jason Organ’s lighting design, supported by Richard Clarke, highlighted and intensified the physical variety of the production. Travelling spots and inventive backlighting were particularly thoughtful touches. Every so often, some elevated moments were rather erratically lit, and these would have perhaps benefited from more simple design. If the music incorporated drew more on themes of looking, this would have added another element to the concept. Often, the performers articulated sounds, but these were frequently too soft to be heard, and therefore did not always feel like a real choice.
When all the elements synchronised, Peepshow was a spectacular piece of art. Encompassing mime, aerial trapeze, sky-high lifts (I was awed by David Trappes’ strength) and phenomenal images, there was no complacency or false starts. You will be surprised and enthralled – Peepshow is worth the watch.
Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton
Photography by The Other Richard
Underbelly Festival Southbank until 18th August