Comic descent

Kate Rotherham: acrobat, It’s Not For Everyone

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

Jo Lancaster carries Simon Yates around the stage on her shoulders while somehow simultaneously dressing him in a suit. She then deposits him atop a podium. Before speaking he looks at her askance then says, equally dismissive and disgusted, “God, you’ve really let yourself go.” This is acrobat at its best, where feats of remarkable, almost impossible physicality combine with minimal dialogue to shine a small beam of truth onto the dark side of the status quo.

Lancaster and Yates are acrobat, who have performed their raw, idiosyncratic take on physical theatre around the world for 20 years. The title of the show, It’s Not for Everyone, reflects their unapologetic honesty and gritty approach to theatre. They reject outright the notion of providing passive entertainment and instead want their audience to be “sucked into their universe and spat out the other side.” It’s quite a ride through this highly expressionistic, at times Dada-esque, exploration of gender, identity and ageing.

The show opens with an outlandish clowning sequence where Yates and Lancaster do the most extraordinary things on a humble bicycle. We glimpse their intense acrobatic skill and gnarly discipline, but from here on there’s a gradual shedding of all things circus as the performers, and their performance, are gradually stripped back. There’s the rather bleak experience of watching Yates hoist a lifeless Lancaster upwards by an arm, a leg and then by her neck beneath a single bulb of light. There is a clever, rapid-fire sequence where Lancaster presents ‘this is me’ aspects of herself with props and actions frozen in flashes of light, like a series of photographs illuminating her multifaceted life. Mud is flung and smeared. The performers run in muddy circles slipping hard on the stage again and again, an exhausting metaphor of failing, skilfully executed. A finely choreographed tangling of bodies follows, complex yet deeply primal, completing the final erosion of superficial clowns into the earth itself. The show is both bold and abstract with a collection of powerful messages delivered in this patchwork-style.

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

acrobat, It’s not for everyone, Hothouse Theatre

In the traditional circus journey, old acrobats become clowns. Yates and Lancaster, now 42 and 48 respectively, are navigating a new trajectory from highly acrobatic performers to middle-aged performance artists. This show was particularly devised not to rely on impressive acrobatic feats alone (Yates has been recovering from a back injury) but rather to bring other theatrical and musical skills, previously used in secondary roles, into focus. The set design is very much in keeping with their anti-aesthetic approach, with a single strand of coloured light bulbs forming a pyramid. The quirky sound works (composed by Tim Barrass) include everything from zany circus music to chickens clucking and a beautifully crisp Australian bush soundscape in the closing scene.

Watching scenes of fiercely original, unpredictably abstract theatre, an Oscar Wilde aphorism came to mind: “A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public to him are non-existent.” From the cartoonish opening through to primal mud wrestling, Yates and Lancaster are staunchly true to their anti-cliché selves. Expressionistic, narrative-free theatre runs the risk of being more confusing than coherent, but as acrobat themselves clearly warn right from the outset, brazen physical theatre is not for everyone.

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You can also read our interview with Jo Lancaster from RT Profiler 9.

acrobat and Marguerite Pepper Productions, It’s Not For Everyone, devisors, performers, Jo Lancaster, Simon Yates, composer, sound designer Tim Barrass, HotHouse, Butter Factory Theatre, Albury, 19-29 March

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. 39

© Kate Rotherham; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

20 April 2015