Soho Theatre, London – until 9 February 2019
Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
The lights come up on a lone performer, clutching an accordion and baring her teeth in a grin. She stands for a moment, assessing the audience and allowing the quiet in the room to go on for a few seconds past comfortable – and then she begins to play. A few minutes later, all five performers are throwing themselves around the room with apparent abandon: spinning, cartwheeling, and generally looking like they’re having an excellent time.
This beginning is auspicious because No Show is no usual circus act – the strength and skill are there, in spades, but not so much the glitz and glamour. And that is the real appeal of this performance; there’s no artifice here, so it feels like a peek behind the curtain. Kate McWilliam, Michelle Ross, Alice Gilmartin, Camille Toyer and Francesca Hyde Hyde may be here to perform, but nothing they’re doing is performative. At times it feels like they are challenging the audience – why do we need so much fakery around these incredible performances? Why not just take these women and their artistry as we find them?
In fact, one of the strengths of No Show is how much it feels like the audience are in the room with some (incredibly talented) friends. There is no backstage here so when a performer isn’t, well, performing, they’re just hanging out at the side, taking a breather and drinking some well-earned water. As compelling as the tricks on stage were, I really enjoyed being able to look over at the performers at rest. Whether they were casually stretching or gleefully spectating their friends at work, the ‘no wings’ approach builds a feeling of relaxed camaraderie between the performers and the audience. Hey, in the end, we’re all spectators – we’re all amazed.
This warm tone infuses all the performances – we’re not meant to look on in awe and terror, thinking of the performers as somehow superhuman. In fact, the point is that they’re very human indeed – if they do a handstand their faces mottle red, they’re not always ready to twist their faces into a rictus of a smile, and when they bend their muscles twitch and strain with effort. There’s a sense curated throughout the performance that though they can and will exceed all physical expectations we might have of them, they refuse to meet the skewed social expectation of constant perfection. This is a social construct that is familiar for any woman in the workplace – though I admit this particular context had never occurred to me before.
That’s not to say the stunts themselves aren’t intense. At one point, Camille Toyer whirls a massive stainless-steel ring around herself as Kate McWilliam nonchalantly describes the various damages she can do to herself if anything goes wrong (“that’s ten broken toes”). I physically shrank in my seat at this point, and heard various gasps through clenched teeth throughout the audience. It was a new and informative experience to be able to watch a trick designed to look effortless, while simultaneously being made painfully aware of exactly how much effort it really took.
That’s the dichotomy that’s really being explored here – the intensely difficult made to look effortless. But, No Show asks us – at what cost?
Photo credit: Chris Hoyle
My verdict? Incredible stunts but with an important and informative message.
No Show runs at Soho Theatre until 9 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.
Tags: Alice Gilmartin, Camille Toyer, circus, Ellie Dubois, Francesca Hyde, Kate McWilliam, London, Michelle Ross, No Show, review, Soho Theatre, theatre, West EndCategories: all posts, Ellen Casey, Guest review, review, theatre
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