Writer: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Reviewer: Laura Maley
With a blend of circus skills, physical theatre, dance, acrobatics, and song, Square Peg Contemporary Circus bring an atmospheric interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to The Lowry.
Rime tells the story of an old sailor relaying his long sea voyage, involving the supernatural, danger and death, with increasing fear and fascination.
Impressive staging involves a scaffold rig at centre stage, with two upright poles. A pole between the upright scaffolding, a few metres above the ground, appears frequently. Artistic director Tim Lenkiewicz makes excellent use of different heights throughout, including plenty of movement at stage level. The scenery also includes a sail and ropes which the cast help to set-up and take down, or use as part of the act. Impressively, a cast member walks along the pole, while singing, demonstrating not just strength and concentration but great vocal control too.
However, sometimes this equipment set-up slows down the flow of the piece and, on one occasion a canvas sail obscures a high pole routine for audience members seated in the low stalls balconies of The Lowry’s Quays Theatre. From the same seats audience members may well miss the fact that early on, the music comes from the performers themselves – on top of the rigging.
The folk-ish, sea shanty style music selected, conveys the dark, haunting tone of the original poem and Lise Marker’s heavy duty layered costumes, in naturalistic muted tones seem fitting for this physical, contemporary interpretation of an 18th-century poem.
The audience’s collective breath is held more than once; Rime holds a number of jaw-dropping moments. In a spectacular finale Isabelle Schuster performs a stunning routine between two lengths of fabric hung from the centre of the rig. Whirling expertly with and between the fabric lengths, Schuster creates striking shapes and plummets sharply in some truly breath-taking moments.
While careful attention is paid to displaying a very wide range of techniques, the balance between solos and whole cast activities does not always feel well struck. Perhaps introducing more displays of skills in smaller groups – rather than concentrating on whole cast and solo activities – would address the balance.
Selected moments of the epic poem are relayed in verse, although the thread of the story sometimes feels lost among the acrobatic displays. In this first full-length show from Square Peg the balance is not always effectively struck between telling the story and acrobatic skills, though unquestionable skills and creativity make the Company a definite prospect for the future.
Runs until 13 April 2014