Bianco: Turning Savage

nofitstate circus in association with Theatr Brycheiniog

Brecon

From 06 September 2013 to 14 September 2013

Review by John Johnson

Bianco: Turning Savage is a modern take on the circus. Imagine theatre combined with circus and a music festival and you get close to this show of anarchic organisation. Moving sets and shifting audience groups make this an experience that will delight some and deter others.

The brilliant live music is loud and crashing and catchy; you find yourself singing along to songs you knew nothing of before watching the performance. This also gives the production a music festival atmosphere with audience members dancing in the aisles and around the bar area. The musical director, Gareth Jones, is coolness personified and he is supported by a committed band that work their way through rock, blues, jazz and some electronic sounding accompaniment.

Highlights include the mesmeric juggling of Hugo Oliveira whose poise and control is astonishing. The swings and straps (August Dakteris’s solo performance is incredibly strong) are fast paced and well executed and draw gulps of excitement from the audience. Nothing can take away from the hard work and commitment from this Cardiff-based company who sleep, eat, journey and perform together.

Perhaps the most attractive and interesting idea with the show is the use of moving stages resulting in a flexible use of space with performers in and above the audience. This really does blur the lines between audience and performer and stays true to the aims of director Firenza Guidi of "carving out a physical world which both performers and spectators can inhabit".

The slower sections have real beauty—the white, sparkly, chandelier-type drapes create silver, sparkly jellyfish in the sky. The importance of imagery in the vision of Guidi is certainly present and is very strong in places. The white dress that drapes the height of the circus tent is contrasted well with the red petals and is like a fantasy fairy tale multiplied by 1000. Little eyes are wide open with envy at this point.

The idea that the performance has an overall narrative is less convincing. Certainly there is an episodic nature to the structure with each self-contained section having a theme, with the brilliant swimming-themed trampoline opening to act two being an example. I am unsure where the connection was however between each scene—perhaps I missed it? This wasn't helped by the speech which was not always audible and with the visual spectacular on offer was perhaps not really required.

Standing for so long did take its toll at points and sight lines were a problem. Though one of the attractions was the promenade form of the piece, one wonders how different the experience might have been seated. My sense is that the festival goer in the audience would have preferred the free-ranging option of moving with the performance. Whether this is everyone's ‘cup of tea’ is up for debate, though it has to be said that those watching seemed engaged in the acrobatics and astonishments happening around them.

It is certain that you will be hard-pressed to find a more original and modern take on the circus, though this felt more suitable for the young than the very young. Family circus rides on elephants this is not.