Shift  – Shoreditch Town Hall, London

Performers: Barely Methodical Troupe

Directors: Melissa Ellberger, Ella Robson Guilfoyle, and the cast

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

In a show full of tumbles, throws and acrobatics, it may be surprising that the overall impression is one of gentleness. In Shift, Barely Methodical Troupe demonstrates how much joy can come from play and yet accompanying this joy is an undercurrent of melancholy. It’s an effective combination.

Barely Methodical Troupe is usually formed of its three core male members, Louis Gift, Beren D’Amico and Charlie Wheeller, but in Shift they are joined by female Swedish acrobat Esmeralda Nikolajeff. However, she is not there simply to be thrown around by the boys. Of course, she’s lobbed from one side of the small raised stage to the other, but she also takes turns in hurling the boys across it too. At one point she even carries the tallest of the boys upon her shoulders, and it seems effortless for her.

The first part of this hour-long show is a series of trust games where each performer falls backwards trusting completely that they will be caught by the others. We may have seen this before, but never like this. This routine is as tightly choreographed as dance; at times it is dance as hands intertwine and as bodies swoop under bodies always catching them before they fall. So satisfying is this part, it seems a shame when they move onto other routines.

D’Amico breakdances while Wheeler spins in his cyr wheel, Gift, the ‘big man’, flips dangerously close to the stage’s edge, and Nikolajeff manipulates giant rubber bands. Each routine blends into the next one, giving the audience little time to applaud. Indeed, clapping seems intrusive and interrupts the swaying rhythm of the piece, the constant tricks, and even the dad jokes that Gift delivers.

Only one routine takes on a darker tone. Wheeller is strapped by rubber bands and the rest of the crew operate his body like a marionette before leaving him for dead on the floor. The violence of this act does jolt a little, but a sadness pervades most of the show despite its delight in friendship. Apart from a song by Elvis Presley all the other tracks are slow and mournful, featuring even parts of My Funny Valentine, surely the most doleful song ever written.

The forgotten Victorian grandeur of Shoreditch Town Hall also adds to the atmosphere, and the bittersweet result is beautiful and, in a way, timeless, as there is little reliance on technology. This venue suits them much better than the Underbelly where Bromance, their quiet and thoughtful take on male relationships, was undermined by the noise of people drinking outside the tent.

Shift is a moving examination of the bonds between friends. One wrong move would mean a body thudding into the audience, and so trust is paramount here. These performers have the utmost faith in each other. Oh!, to have friends like these.

Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: JMA Photography

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