‘Impenetrable looking mathematics has never been so entertaining’: WHAT DOES STUFF DO? – Appleby

In Cabaret, Circus, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

Catch! Festival, Appleby

Robin Boon Dale graduated from Circomedia two years ago, and already his impressive debut solo show, What Does Stuff Do?,  has garnered him two awards. Seems fair, considering he manages to reveal the nature of existence, in under an hour, through the medium of juggling and a carefully placed blow-up paddling pool.

With an excited twinkle in his eye, Dale delivers a passionate lecture in physics, philosophy and stagecraft with a bright green juggling ring around his neck and a ping-pong bat in his hand. His casual dress and demeanour strikes a fine balance with the academic quality of his theorising, and the energy of his vocal delivery is engaging even when the exact meaning of his complex words goes over my head. With ‘liquid’ as a running theme, it seems apt that the boundaries between formal and informal remain porous.

The premise of the show is that objects – including us lumpy human ones – exist within systems of recognisable function. Change the system, and you change the options of behaviour available to you. Wine glasses filled with water become juggling props, spillage becomes catching, body surfaces become platforms for bouncing balls from, a flip chart filled with algebraic formulae becomes a slapstick partner.

I should clarify, actually. It’s not really algebra in the equation here, but siteswap, the numeric notation system for determining juggling patterns. Impenetrable looking mathematics has never been so entertaining! Usually, Dale would demonstrate the application of siteswap himself but, seeing as this show is being specially presented as part of a juggling convention, he decides to enlist a press-ganged volunteer to toss three-club patterns as called out by other members of the audience.

Not only is 17-year-old Felix Sürbe a great sport, but he also has an amazing facility for translating numbers into throws and making patterns appear in the air on the audience’s whim – I’m glad Dale took this unusual opportunity to showcase such skills.

Robin Boon Dale in ‘What Does Stuff Do?’ IMAGE: Antonio Castro

Despite a deceptively lo-fi aesthetic, What Does Stuff Do? has been constructing with knowing care, and it’s impressive to see that it works just as well for an audience of juggling experts as it does for non-juggler me. Whether its the delicate wry humour that comes from performing variations on a classical Greek sculpted fountain, the juvenile joy of a bright pink foot-towel, or the eloquent insights given to the subject and science of juggling, Dale strikes the mood just right to keep us with him. And when it begins to get a little heavy on the brain, he’s there with visually stimulating tricks and throw-catch choreographies to demonstrate more practically all those things those things and humans with those things and those things with humans can do.

The final reveal of ‘the ultimate tool’ is a brilliantly satisfying conclusion, and leaves us with the knowledge that not only is Dale a talented juggler, but also a clever theatre-maker too.

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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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