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What Will Have Been

What Will Have Been A scene from What Will Have Been. Photo: Denise Bradley

Show creator Yaron Lifschitz hyped What Will Have Been in true PT Barnum style. He is quoted in the regional press as saying: “It’s a different level of circus. There’s nothing like it on the planet.”

Unfortunately, his hyperbole proves empty. Although he claims: “We have never tried anything as audacious as this before,” this world premiere by Australian ensemble Circa, which was commissioned for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, shows zero artistic progression from the company’s production of The Space Between at the same venue in 2009.

Apart from a slightly different repertoire of skills, such as a corde lisse routine by Lauren Herley, Lifschitz’s dry aesthetic vision remains unchanged, from the cast configuration of two male and one female acrobats, to the static lighting, minimal apparatus, austere costuming and predominance of acrobalance.

The gymnastic skill of the cast is intrinsically impressive, although the visible strain and muscle-shake distracts from the tender entwining of Herley and Lewis West as they stand atop the raised blocks normally used for hand balancing. A highlight sees West rise from laying prone to standing while Herley and Daniel O’Brien balance on his shoulders to form a human tower.

As striking as the raw physicality is, however, the lifts, tumbling and contortionism never go beyond what can be seen in traditional circus or, for that matter, professional wrestling.

West and O’Brien perform what wrestlers call a strap match, where two combatants are tied together. The difference is that pro wrestlers would add characterisation and a storyline to truly engage the emotions.

The sombre acrobatics and violin accompaniment of Rebecca Seymour create a formal atmosphere. Some of the most impressive individual moves are almost lost amid a continuation of action rather than framed by the ‘ta-dah’ moments of old school circus.

Yet there is no artistic reason for the fourth wall that surrounds the performers. With no obvious narrative, the stunts could have been more enjoyably presented as a traditional circus routine, without the abstract dance and mime elements that once made contemporary circus fresh but which have become so commonplace as to be boringly generic.

Given that this piece was specifically created for the Spiegeltent, where the in-the-round stage, mirrored walls, booth seating and draped ceiling conjure an environment somewhere between a big top and a music hall, a more sparkly, cabaret-style presentation may have been a better fit for the venue. Alas, this show is so safely aimed at the arts brigade that it dares not do anything as shamelessly populist as amuse.

With even new circus pioneer Cirque du Soleil having reverted to a traditional variety show format for its UK tour of Kooza, earlier this year, Circa’s unadventurous production invites the question of whether contemporary circus has run its course.

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Feats of strength fail to lift dull presentation as contemporary circus shows its age