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The Bekkrell Effect review at Roundhouse, London – ‘gently comedic’

Chloe Derrouaz, Sarah Cosset, Fanny Sintes, Louisa Wruck in The Bekkrell Effect. Photo: Massao Mascaro Chloe Derrouaz, Sarah Cosset, Fanny Sintes, Louisa Wruck in The Bekkrell Effect. Photo: Massao Mascaro
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A circus inspired by nuclear physics? It’s hard not to think of the world’s premier political megalomaniacs and their social media sabre-rattling. Fortunately, The Bekkrell Effect doesn’t contain any grotesquely volatile world leaders intent on annihilation, but rather a quartet of female French performers who met at circus school in Chalons-en-Champagne.

Nevertheless, theirs is a 70-minute creation about instability and reaction, named in honour of Henri Becquerel, the physicist who first discovered radioactivity. It’s about as far from traditional circus shows as you can get, featuring a pared-back DIY aesthetic (ropes, rigs, a plain pole, high wire and battered teeterboard on a bare stage) and a distinct lack of dramatic stunts.

The influence of Tanztheater seems apparent as the performers trot and stride around the space dressed in sturdy tweed two-piece suits, a bunch of bizarre matrons who occasionally scramble up ropes and wrestle each other while chuntering and bickering. They swagger in tandem with bulbous red wire coils dangling between their legs in a pleasing piss-take of circus machismo.

The overall effect is gently comedic and a bit confounding, soundtracked by a mix of experimental electronic grinding and pompous operatic aria. Sometimes the energy seems strangely static and the jokes feel flat, but it’s rescued by a clever and apparently chaotic sequence that makes an absurd drama out of a pulley. Desultory cartwheels and teeterboard launches are accompanied by the droll donning of Evel Kneivel-style get-up, complete with a feathered sports bra. It’s an odd and refreshing antidote to acrobatic expectations.

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Uneven but enjoyably eccentric all-female circus show inspired by radioactivity