Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 31st May 2019
“it’s impossible not to gasp and coo at the acts of physical skill on display”
We’ve all been there, hearing the airport announcer warn of delays and, knowing you’ll be there for a while, settle in for some intensive diablo-ing to pass the time. No? Must be just FLIP Fabrique then.
Director of the Québécois circus troupe Alexandre Fecteau has chosen an apt name for this show. It follows a (very) loose plot around the travelling life, offering insights into the shared joys and lonely challenges of life on the road, and the stacked trunks on stage literally represent the group’s transit through airports. But transitions of other sorts are referenced, too; we see a revelation from one player that she and her group are about to experience a seismic change.
The performances, as would be expected from such an accomplished group, are remarkable, as are the range of skills on display (including, memorably, a record-breaking fifteen different skills within ninety seconds from Jasmin Blouin). The occasional stunt fails but the goodwill in the audience is high and these glitches just serve to highlight the technique on display. It helps that the camaraderie of this troupe of six is clear; they seem to having a great time together.
This is especially clear in the stand-out acts, with the diablo a highlight; Jérémie Arsenault has exceptional stage presence. As billed, it’s hard not to grip your seat at times during these performances, especially those which see Jade Dussault hurled into the gods, almost grazing the lighting rigs.
Transit also features amazing music choices – and the geniuses have saved audiences from furtive mid-performance Shazam-ing (guilty, your honour) by putting the full song list on their website. The strength of Bruno Matte’s lighting design also needs to be mentioned, including beautiful flashes of rainbow clubs (mesmerising in motion) and zippy neon skipping ropes.
Pierre Rivière’s bare-chested straps display celebrates the incredible physicality of circus, but the second appearance of straps is one of the less successful set pieces as Rivière dons a fat suit, munching doughnuts. I suspect this is a clowning rib at the strains of maintaining physical condition during months of training and touring, but it comes off awkwardly as simply mocking the idea of a larger figure in action and jars with the otherwise inclusive feel of the show.
There’s also the unavoidable fact that this group has just one woman, and at times there’s a risk of feeling as though she’s a prop to be balanced with or tossed around. This risk is seen off for the most part by her powerful solo hoops performance, where she commands the stage. This set piece is moving and beautiful, which is to be celebrated, but it exemplifies one of the issues here – the tension between emotional, adult material alongside family-friendly playful scenes.
For all these small flaws, it’s impossible not to gasp and coo at the acts of physical skill on display. I found myself hand on mouth then laughing aloud at times – and for an evening of circus, can you ask for more?
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography courtesy FLIP Fabrique
Underbelly Festival Southbank until 7th July
Previously reviewed at this venue: