wed 13/12/2017

Casus Circus Driftwood, Brighton Festival review - eye-boggling gymnastic theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Casus Circus Driftwood, Brighton Festival review - eye-boggling gymnastic theatre

Casus Circus Driftwood, Brighton Festival review - eye-boggling gymnastic theatre

Cheerful, physically extraordinary Australian outfit enthrall at the Theatre Royal

A whole new angle on see-sawing

There is a sequence in theatrical circus troupe Casus’ new production, Driftwood, where three of the five members sit, each between the legs of another, in a row, facing the front of the stage. They look as if they’re about to do the rowing dance people in the Eighties used to do to the Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head” at suburban discos. That is not what they do. Instead the front one rolls back onto the one behind, who in turn rolls back onto the one behind and, before you know it, the three off them have formed a human totem pole. It’s one of those things where your eyes can’t quite believe it’s happened. But then there’s a lot of that with Casus. They major in physical impossibility.

Casus, appearing in the Theatre Royal at Brighton Festival, are a five-piece Australian outfit – at least for the purposes of this show – consisting of two women and three men. Driftwood is performed, all smiles, all the time, and there’s a loose conceptual theme, which is helping one and other, being a collective unit. Happily, the whole is spiced with easy good humour. A regular problem with high-end circus is that it can be presented po-faced, beautifully lit, but utterly serious, like an art installation. No such issues here, and a full house, including many small children, clapping regularly at their feats, is a testament to the fact this lot can entertain on multiple levels.

Driftwood begins under a regular domestic, drum-style lamp shade, lowered from the heavens, which the ensemble throng under, moving in a circle, gripping one another, like human waves. Throughout 70 minutes of intense, acrobatic physicality, multiple types of skill are shown. An early highlight comes when one member is held between two and used as a skipping rope for another, while there's also a lovely sequence of hoop play, 15 feet off the ground, intricate and thrillingly dangerous-looking, to the gentle soundtrack of Gotye’s ballad “Heart’s a Mess”.

Comedy is provided by, among much else, Casus co-founders Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAulay playing off their difference in height, or a sequence in which a clothes horse is dressed with much clowning. By the same token, there are moments of pure visual artistry, where the audience makes noises of quiet wonderment, such as a simple but eye-boggling piece where one of the men places his back in the lamp-light and contorts his musculature into all manner of shadowed physical shapes.

Watching this performance, the mind almost suffers astonishment fatigue for, by the end, I'm taking for granted things that are unachievable for 99.9 percent of us. There are moments so startling they remain on the mind’s eye for some time afterwards. One such is a sequence involving three members hooping, with four hoops each, until they are spread equidistantly on their bodies. It’s a hypnotic sight that the retina absorbs yet takes a moment fully to comprehend. There is much else in a similarly brain-boggling vein, rope work and extraordinary balancing skills, but let’s leave those, for circuses need spoilers as little as any other art from. Suffice to say Driftwood is a show it would be difficult to walk out of feeling anything other than awed.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Casus Circus's Driftwood

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