Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Sitting in the stomach of a giant inflatable upturned purple cow is not your everyday occurrence but hey it’s summer in London where experiences like this are increasingly common. It’s the Southbank’s Udderbelly festival of course, an eight week series of performances and events on the green beside the London Eye. One of this year’s headline acts is Bromance a circus-gymnastics-comedy-dance show exploring ideas of male friendship.
It opens with a voiceover definition of the types of handshake men use which the three acrobats demonstrate for the audience – the limp, the bully and the politician – suggesting how men use non-verbal cues to imply both their own personality and their feelings towards the other. What follows are a number of trust exercises familiar to anyone who’s been on a corporate away day where the performers catch each other as they fall backwards or forwards, before introducing more elaborate tumbles and spins to the initial routine.
Pretty soon it becomes clear that the notion of hands reaching out to one another, seen at the beginning, imply readiness and trust, presaging a number of spectacular feats including handstands on each other’s heads (performed by Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico) and gasp-inducing drop catches which miss the floor by inches. As well as a totem-pole finale, other gymnastic highlights include neatly choreographed frenetic tumbles, leaps and catches, as well as possibly the most impressive piece of solo hoop work you will ever see, in which Charlie Wheeller climbs inside the spinning hoop to create an astounding variety of shapes, rotations and tricks.
There is a narrative of sorts to all of this and as breather in between the routines, there are a number of comedy scenarios and dance sequences which help to vary the mood and tone throughout, as well as useful moments of stillness to build anticipation among the audience. The theme is fairly consistent across these elements using the building and breaking of allegiances among the three men, periods of individual anger and separation, as well as co-operation and sharing to reflect on the evolving nature of friendships. The integration of music and lighting levels helped to create mood, adding some depth to the changing emotions being enacted.
Wheeler, Gift and D’Amico quickly build a rapport with the audience but those of a sensitive nature should be warned that there is a gratuitous men-in-pants section at the end which is sure to evoke consistent levels of whooping from the ogling audience. Crowd-pleasing though it is, it perhaps undermines their purpose a little, making the final routine less about how they engage with one other and more about the objectification of the male body. But it will certainly boost their ticket sales. Bromance combines the different personalities and physicality of the three performers in a nicely varied hour of spectacular stunts and comedy interactions. While the masculinity theme may not always be explicit there is no denying the jaw-dropping skills of this troupe, and it’s certainly the best thing you’ll see in a cow’s stomach this year.
Runs Until: 19 July