Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Despite what it sounds similar to this is not a show parodying swashbuckling seafaring, shanties, and swordfights – although one could be forgiven as we are greeted into the theatre by the sound of waves. Pirates of the Carabina are a troupe at the forefront of British circus and their show, Flown, has toured for a few years. It is a sweet and thrilling swoop into life in the circus.
To many the word circus conjures up images of big tops, ringmasters, and clowns but as an art form circus is so much more. Impressive and potentially dangerous circus routines may be, but for those involved with it is not just about performing, rather a way of life – and that is what is at the heart of Flown. The performers connect with us, tell us a little about their life in this community and, of course, dazzle us with their skills. And with the company’s ethos of performing to live music, this is a show that is also part music gig.
At the helm of the company is Barnz Munn. He tells us a little about himself: as a circus scaffolder and constructer he not only fell in love with the art form but also trapeze artist and fellow creative director of Pirates of the Carabina, Shaena Brandel. Barnz is the ballast of the troupe – literally. He is the counterweight on stage for all of the aerial feats. As one performer goes up he goes down and vice versa. He and performer need to work in total synchronicity for any of it to work. There is a beautiful satisfaction in watching this harmony at work a one by one the performers display their skills on hoop, silk, rope and … lampshade!
Live music is integral to the piece. Onstage are two musicians but all of the multi-skilled performers ‘muck in’. Aerialist Shaena Brandel performs a Celtic ballad to one routine, Jack Rees (best described as The Fool) becomes a roller skating mini guitarist at one point, but an extra mention must go to drummer, harmonica playing, slack rope walking, chair balancing acrobat Ellis Grover who can probably do 101 other things, not on display in this show. Thomas Podgoretsky’s musical compositions are whimsical, verging on twee, but have a mesmerising, almost hypnotic effect as we witness the twirls and elegance above our heads. In contrast, rock circus is unleashed with electric guitars and a fantastic finale where everything, somehow, ends up being flown including drummer and drum kit!
Flown is a show that has such a relaxed style it almost feels improvised. A foil is set that things occasionally go wrong in circus but even the falling ladders or ‘slips’ from the lighting rig have to be so well choreographed it becomes a masterclass in expecting the unexpected. The show is at its best when it becomes like a jazz gig – performer taking the limelight before melding back into the ensemble troupe. The show is at its worst when it becomes too self-indulgent and surreal – unfortunately, both times involving Barnz with onstage romanticism becomes a little sickly sweet and bizarre moments involving a megaphone and small tiny horse pulling a chariot.
This show has a definite message: go with your passion and you just might make your living out of what you love. After all, that has been the decision of every single person on the stage. A circus show always suffers from being in a theatre as opposed to a big top at a festival but Flown is a show that will make you want to run away and join the circus as soon as you leave. Either that or dream about flying.
Reviewed on 24th November | Image: Contributed