Circa shows us that circus doesn’t have to be about spectacle, as Closer is as much about sheer beauty as it is mouth-widening “wow”s.
Australian circus troop Circa bring a reworked version of their acclaimed Edinburgh show, Closer, to London’s renowned seasonal upside-down purple cow.
A lot of circus these days is about bowling people over with spectacle: not that this is a bad thing. Gravity and Other Myth’s A Simple Space last year was an exhilarating bash to the face of nail-biting showmanship and body-braking skills. So, headlining the same circus opening slot at the Udderbelly Festival this year, Circa’s Closer has a high bar to reach. But rather than going for (juggling) balls-out bravura, Closer approaches their show with aesthetic depth that we’ve either forgotten is possible with circus, or we’ve come not to expect.
Whilst there isn’t a narrative to Closer per se, it becomes apparent from the very start that the show is set to explore a couple of themes. Human intimacy is certainly the most apparent, but there’s also hints at communication and dealing with trauma. From this theming foundation sprouts a desire in how these are going to be explored, as throwing yourself around a room in various different ways isn’t that cerebral or conversational. To do this, Closer combines elements of physical performance, mime, and even sign-language to try and communicate what it’s undertaking. But ultimately, it’s the simple body-talk and physical interaction that really move the show. On top of this, Closer is always looking for rich visuals to crown their ideas, and, by golly, do they find them.
The result is really outstanding. In many incredible moments in Closer the first thing that hits you is just how stunning each sequence looks: it’s an outrightly beauteous affair. Then, once your wide-eyes have adjusted, you suddenly realise that, in the quiet beauty of the moment, there’s an inhuman physical skill behind what they’re doing: be it hanging from someone else’s neck and turning 360 on balancing blocks, or dizzying spins as someone tumbles down a rope. Simultaneously, these also tend the heighten the topics they’re tackling, be it with humour or deeper pathos, and the show comes together with non-verbal panache and variety that’s as sublime as it is stupendous.
But this doesn’t mean Closer is incapable of spectacle; there is certainly this here too, it’s just not as brazen. This can be summed up best in the show’s finale. As usual, you first think its looks rather gorgeous, and then you start to realise just how tricky and dangerous what they’re doing is. But you can’t help feeling like, despite its impressiveness, it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. But right at the last beat, a simple push brings the show tumbling to a jaw-dropping flourish that leaves you gasping.
Closer is a sumptuously different approach that demonstrates that circus can be far more than “ooh”s and “aah”s, but a medium that can aim for context and artistry without sacrificing its thrills.
Direction & Production
Although a fairly simple production, there’s a few things worth mentioning here. An overall monochrome look to Closer that gives the show plenty of freedom not to distract itself, but also gives the audience space to really tap visually into what the show is trying to do. Libby McDonnell’s costumes go quite a way to do this, but not without little garnishes of couture that lift the garments beyond mere functionality, and indulge in just a little bit of sex appeal too. Like the rest of the show, the costumes embody a subtle showmanship that, once fully discovered, delivers in spades.
But really holding Closer together and lifting it to an impressively cognitive plane is the music and sound design. The choice in music can range from nostalgic to dream-inducing, but always evocative. Although Closer would certainly be as impressive without sound and music, the playlist gives the show an aural lilt that comprehensively binds it together. In saying that, it’s in the sound design that there is only one tiny criticism: it’s a shame that tracks never quite finish or transition smoothly. Get that right, and Closer is pretty much perfection.
If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then a circus trope is certainly only as impressive as its most lackadaisical member. Everyone in Circa is just a joy to watch, whether in physical japery to physicality-defying stunts. What’s best about the company though is that, especially here, you’re really involved and interested in what they’re trying to do. Even outside of set audience interaction pieces, you constantly feel performed to and never at, meaning you’re drawn into Closer despite the high flying acrobatics because there’s always an earthy human quality to the show that enables you to effortlessly link into it.
As much as it feels a little unfair to single on performer out in the context of an entire cast at the top of their game, Lisa Goldsworthy is perhaps one of my favourite things in Closer. This is not just because of a hula-hoop sequence that was an unbelievable amount of unabashed fun, but because there’s a real sense of pure theatricality in everything Goldsworthy does. Everything from sober seriousness to kooky joie de vivre is delivered with an energy, drama, and connection that is compelling and clever.
Closer is making circus jaw-droppingly gorgeous again. Flying thrills, beautiful looks, and compelling communication: a landmark show.