LondonPhysical TheatreReview

The Belly of the Whale – Greenwich Festival, London

Director: Tina Koch

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Running away to the circus isn’t quite what it used to be, gone are the lion tamers and garishly painted clowns, these days circus performance is all about acrobatic skill. Ockham’s Razor have brought the tightrope walker and trapeze artist almost down to earth with their new show The Belly of the Whale, created specifically for the outdoors and using their secret weapon, “the beast”.

It’s a show that celebrates friendship, support and trust while trapped in a much larger object whose motion the individual cannot control or conquer alone. “The beast” is in fact a u-shaped cradle structure specially created for this show which the performers manipulate to achieve a gentle or wildly rocking motion from which they swing, hang and slide in six set-piece segments over 40 minutes.

First, Nathan Johnston slides and smiles as the contraption rocks gently. It looks fun at first as the motion and height gradually increase, but as Amanda Homa is roughly buffeted from side to side, it becomes choppier, even perilous. Soon the clever stuff begins when Stefano Di Renzo attaches a thin rope to the top edges on which he balances impressively as the rocking cradle becomes more unwieldy forcing him to climb upwards – how he retains his balance on the thin rope is a marvel.

One of the distinctive aspects of The Belly of the Whale is the way in which the adaptations of “the beast” are incorporated into the action. Ockham Razor want you to see the technical structure and mechanics behind the acrobatics as poles and ropes are added to the device to vary the height and the style of manoeuvre they can complete before deconstructing it all again within the show, returning “the beast” to its original state – this may be what Brechtian circus looks like!

Interesting though all of this is, it takes time out of a relatively short show, so Homa’s expressive gymnastic rope sequence – incorporating spins, climbs and contortions using coils of rope wrapped around her feet and waist to get the necessary purchase – must wait until a mast-like pole is fixed into place and pulley-ropes attached to force one side of the cradle to the floor, lifting the other almost 90 degrees into the air to give her the necessary height.

It all finally comes together in the final couple of segments with all the paraphernalia removed, as the company just use the cradle for a series of stunts and tricks that convey the joy and sheer fun of working together. It ends with a display of strength and skill as Homa and Di Renzo hang from the sides, leap and cartwheel across the centre helped by Johnston who controls the motion, and acts as the catcher, twisting his partners back into position.

With live music composed and played by Gabriele Pierro, The Belly of the Whale uses guitar and keyboard to create a soundscape of clicks, snaps, creaks and plucked strings that suit the naval location. In the shadow of the Cutty Sark. Ockham’s Razor have created an entertaining and inventive outdoor show, and while “the beast” is clearly the star (and as a tool its impressive) with so much show time given over to configuring it, the Company could consider using it more strategically to help the performers to shine.

Reviewed on 23 June 2018 | Image: Mark Dawson

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