The Bekkrell Effect – The Roundhouse, London

Performers: Groupe Bekkrell

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

A Punk circus in one of the homes of Punk seems like good marketing. In 1976, The Ramones played their first British gig at The Roundhouse in Camden and in the audience were members of The Clash, The Damned, and The Sex Pistols, the pioneers of British Punk. Punk is meant to angry, anarchic and short. Unfortunately, The Bekkrell Effect fails to stick two fingers up to society.

Of course, Punk is more than a music genre: it is also an attitude, a fuck you attitude. It should snarl and threaten. Its lawless aesthetic should open up new spaces for political change. The Groupe Bekkrell, a circus company from Paris, certainly bring chaos to their stage, albeit a very tightly choreographed chaos. Tightropes are created out of nothing and seesaws are suspended and then dropped from the ceiling. We never quite know what will happen next, but this managed chaos never looks less than beautiful under Clément Bonnin’s lights, sometimes casting the stage in near darkness and at other times giving the performers stark silhouettes.

It may look good, but the problem is that there are little acrobatics on offer, and this is because all of the four female performers are clowns. One of Angela Carter’s characters in her novel Nights at the Circusdeclares that clowns ‘are a crime against humanity.’ While this might be an extreme reaction, it is notoriously difficult to create a clown that everyone likes. To create four likeable clowns in the one show may be impossible. The four clowns here are highly skilled but they pretend they are not. They are stroppy and following clowning tradition they don’t speak much, but instead they have annoying, muffled voices like squabbling Neanderthals in a 1960s’ B movie.

Named after the discoverer of radioactivity, Henri Becquerel, Groupe Bekkrell promise that it will produce an unstable universe where things will decay and disintegrate, but there are also long spells of the 70 minutes where little happens. The performers lie on the floor, or hang motionless from poles or tightropes. Punk is meant to be loud, but often there is no music at all, and when it comes it’s not loud enough or Punk enough. As the performers are influenced by The Riot Grrrls of the 1990s, it would have been good to hear the likes of Bikini Kill.

It’s a frustrating evening, more absurdist than Punk and after seeing this it’s doubtful that many will want to run away to join a circus, or even a Punk Rock band. Punk’s unruliness should threaten to spill over the stage, but here the audience is very safe. Rather than embodying the anger and menace of The Sex Pistols, the four performers seem more like Beckettian clowns, and, like Waiting For Godot, nothing really happens

Runs until 22 April 2018 | Image: Massao Mascaro


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