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Backbone review at Southbank Centre, London – ‘bold, colourful circus show exploring notions of strength’

Scene from Backbone, by Gravity and Other Myths, at London's Southbank Centre. Photo: Carnival Cinema

Backbone, by Australian circus company Gravity and Other Myths, derives some of its strength from upending our big-top expectations. There’s a false start – lights dimmed, performers arranged expectantly toe-to-toe – that gives way to a casual sequence of setting up and warming up.

Chattering amiably among themselves, the cast members position their props – clothes rails, buckets, rocks and poles – and practise thigh balances in pairs, signalling their readiness with a “hup”. It’s a neat way of evoking the reality of graft and repetition that underpins the glitz of performance.

The strength of the ensemble is paramount to Backbone – there are no star turns here. The company (comprising seven men and three women) takes the idea of team-building to a new level, whether that’s in the construction of tripartite human towers or dance-like displays of domino-effect motion, with individual limbs as components in a fleshy physical contraption.

Gender is gestured at – the women don grey suits, the men some shmata-style frocks – but it’s somewhat superficial. Women are necessarily the lightweight ‘flyers’ here: held up, swung around and caught, like elegant agricultural cargo, by the burlier males.

The blokes, who do most of the tumbling, also have a habit of hurtling horizontally and hoofing each other in the chest, which gets a bit tiresome. A masochistic game involving a rope smacking people in the abdomen is also an odd addition.

Bold, colourful lighting enhances the spectacle, along with a live musical accompaniment that blends folk-style violin melodies with synths and clacking, churning soundscapes.

Verdict
Largely enjoyable circus show explores notions of strength and community

Production

Production
Backbone
Venue
Southbank Centre
City
London
Starts
August 14, 2018
Ends
August 18, 2018
Press night
August 14, 2018
Director
Darcy Grant
Set
Geoff Cobham
Lighting
Geoff Cobham
Cast includes
Jacob Randell, Jascha Boyce, Lachlan Binns, Mieke Lizotte, Lewie West, Martin Schreiber, Joanne Curry, Lachlan Harper, Lewis Rankin, Jackson Manson
Producer
Craig Harrison
Running time
1hr 20mins