REVIEW! Transit by FLIP Fabrique @ Underbelly Festival Southbank

Director: Alexandre Fecteau
Artistic Direction: Bruno Gagnon
Choreographer: Annie Saint-Pierre
Presented by FLIP Fabrique and Underbelly
27th May – 7th July 2019

FLIP Fabrique is a company of young artists from Quebec, Canada, who travel the world performing their circus routines. Their latest show, Transit, is about… travelling the world performing circus routines. From the moment the performers tumble onto the stage out of a road case, it is evident that there is something different about this troupe: they have an infectious sense of fun and mischief, and tangible close rapport with each other. Despite the fact that their show is in a mix of English and French, their brand of humour is both too exuberant to be English and too irreverent to be French. And despite the fact that there was little in the way of story or aesthetic theme, the show felt cohesive and never lost momentum or interest.

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Throughout the course of the hour-long performance, the troupe cycled through a number of circus acts and disciplines. Of course, in homage to their name, they started with a series of acrobatic tricks; flips and tumbles and feats of precarious balancing atop a wildly ambulatory road case. This soon gave way to aerial straps performances from Pierre Riviere (once topless and showing off his chiseled physique, and then later as a comical callback performance in a fatsuit, weeping into doughnuts); hula-hoop feats from Jade Dussault; strongman stunts from Jonathan Julien; juggling of various items (pins, balls, knives, etc) from Jasmin Blouin; hair-raising trampoline acrobatics from Cedrik Pinault; and, as a standout performance, diabolo juggling and general wizardry from Jeremie Arsenault. Honestly, diabolos have never been anywhere near the top of my list of most exciting circus instruments, but this man’s skill with the things was mind-blowing. Indeed, I’m convinced that he was controlling them with some sort of otherworldly power, because they were behaving more like perfectly-trained show dogs than inanimate objects. Coupled with this mastery was his sparkling mien of mischief and good humour, which made his every scene into side-splitting comedy.

These acts were interwoven with other short skits and exchanges which ranged from silly (waking up a birthday boy with a faceful of shaving cream), to surreal (live creation of a chalk dust Jackson Pollock-esque painting of the team), to banter between friends (“what’s your next project?” “giving life” “never heard of them”), and back to silly again (an entire routine based in balletic sweet-spitting, because if travelling as a troupe means anything, it means going down as a team if even one of you gets a cold). The trampo-walling finale literally had me on the edge of my seat, torn between awe and horror, and when the show ended I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends.

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This, really, was the atmosphere that made Transit so enjoyable: the feeling that, on stage in front of you, was a bunch of mates who genuinely love each other’s company, who sometimes squabble like children, but support each other on-stage and off, and just have an absolute ball creating and performing shows together. There were a number of fluffed tricks throughout, but they were dealt with so good-naturedly that you couldn’t really hold it against them. There were also times when I felt like artists were performing outside of their skillsets, to the detriment of the performance (when my friends and I went through our skipping-rope phase in primary school I remember pulling off a number of tricks that didn’t land in this show). When these same performers then had shining moments of incredible skill later on, it made me question whether they were being used to their best advantage at all times. That said, I can understand the impulse to have as many of the troupe as possible on stage together as much as possible, because together, this FLIP Fabrique team was dynamite. I would absolutely recommend this show to people of all ages, and anyone looking for a fun and uncomplicated night out.

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Previous review: A Winter’s Tale @ The Warren, Brighton Fringe

Peepshow, Circa @ Underbelly

27th June – 18th August 2018
Directed by Yaron Lifschitz
Devised and Presented by Circa Contemporary Theatre
Performed at Underbelly Festival’s Spiegeltent

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Images courtesy of Kurt Petersen

This was, quite simply, phenomenal cabaret circus. I sat transfixed in Underbelly’s Spiegeltent for 60 minutes and forgot the world outside existed, as the six performers – four women and two men – moved fluidly and gracefully through a series of acts encompassing dance, hoops, physical comedy, aerial silks, and superb displays of acrobatics. Unfortunately on the night I was there, the trapeze artist pictured in promotional materials was not performing, but he was barely missed amongst the rest of the extremely talented cast.

According to director Yaron Lifschitz, Peepshow explores the concept of “looking and being seen”; the performers navigate through light and darkness, visual effects and illusions, and the states of observer and observed. Classic cabaret tropes and techniques are twisted and subverted – I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the acrobatic bases were women, and it was wonderful to see a break from the usual convention that only male acrobats must be strong and muscular while their female counterparts are small, lithe, and sexy. (Side note: one of the performers looked for all the world like a fourth Hemsworth brother and the most attractive, not to mention the most physically talented!) Which is not to say that the women in this show weren’t sexy – at times they were, but they were not confined to this. And although there were some classic displays of performative masculinity, including a gracefully choreographed dance fight, there was also a feeling of gender and sexual fluidity, not to mention homoeroticism. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the objectification of the performers was equal, deliberate, and self-aware, all of which only made it more devastatingly effective. The style flirted with the seediness of a burlesque peepshow, but poked gentle fun at it as well. And the music was phenomenal!

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Images courtesy of Kurt Petersen

My only criticisms of this production are mild, and are actually focused on some of the more traditional acts in the show: the miming and juggling were not quite as seamless and engrossing as the more innovative acts. In addition, the lack of any stronger through-thread, plot, or theme, meant that in the very few weaker moments, the show lost momentum somewhat. However for the most part, this production was absolutely exquisite and breath-taking. I would highly recommend making your way down to the Southbank in time to see Peepshow before its run there ends in August!

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