‘Mixing playful games with deconstructing stereotypes’: CASTING OFF – Edinburgh Fringe

In Circus, Edinburgh Festival, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 3), Edinburgh
2-26 August 2018

As we sit around the intimate stage in the Spiegeltent it begins to rain outside, which adds to the feeling that we have found ourselves in somebody’s cosy living room. We join three women of varying ages as they sit at a table, dressed in costumes knitted by one of the performers (Spenser Inwood, a.k.a. ‘Knit’). We are introduced to the questioning nature of the piece immediately, as they begin to playfully dispute their roles in the group and examine the language that they use to describe each other.

Pairing insightful conversation with complex acrobatics, we see the performers navigate their journey, both through life and across the stage, through and around each others bodies. They use the entire space, weaving through the audience, falling off the stage and rolling about on the floor laughing.

This show tackles serious subjects with silliness, mixing playful games with deconstructing stereotypes. This is particularly prominent with the oldest performer – ‘Slip’, a.k.a. Debra Batton – defies all preconceptions about age, showing off her incredible acrobatic skill with boundless energy, in one scene slamming herself onto the floor repeatedly and springing back up again, shouting ‘I win!’.

By setting up the premise of a conversation, they are able to touch on various socio-political issues in a witty but insightful way. For example, when ‘Pearl’ – a.k.a. Sharon Gruenert – is described as ‘a bit much’ and ‘over the top’, labels often placed on women, she takes them as a compliment, subverting it into a positive attribute. The thought-provoking text is juxtaposed with well placed funny absurdist moments, from outbursts of emotion to an unusual balloon creature riding a tricycle.

The circus skills cleverly mirror what is happening in the text; while they are using their different perspectives to build on their understanding, they are also using each other’s bodies to build towering structures. This creates beautiful images of entwined bodies and chairs, topped off with a hair-raising handstand from Batton, because, as she admits to us, ‘handstands make me happy’. 

The choice to make this a stripped back production means that there is no separation and we feel close to the action, which makes the skills all the more impressive. In particular, the section with the cradle work in which ‘Knit’ swings ‘Pearl’ underneath her, smoothly throwing and catching her whilst casually singing and humming.

Focused light draws us to their hilariously distorted facial expressions, helping each individual character shine through. It is uplifting to see these three performers relate to each other authentically on stage, and it’s a nice reminder of the richness that can come from having a diverse range of perspectives.

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Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."
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Katharine Kavanagh on FacebookKatharine Kavanagh on InstagramKatharine Kavanagh on RssKatharine Kavanagh on TwitterKatharine Kavanagh on Youtube
Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."

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