CircusFest 2014: Belonging at the Roundhouse
By Booker Woodford
17th April 2014
Playing to a full crowd as part of CircusFest 2014, Belonging is a new production from Graeae, a theatre company that places deaf and disabled artists centre stage.
>Built upon an abstract narrative, the show is episodic. Constructed of the flashbacks of several characters who have been told to say goodbye to a soon-to-be-demolished building that holds much sentimental value.
Director Jenny Sealey has created a brave narrative that attempts to harbour several lofty themes, including love, loss and the passing of time. Regardless of the emphasis placed on their differences, Sealey’s story enthuses a solidarity among its characters, which communicates a powerful message. Challenging the age-old ideal that “we’re all the same” it instead argues that we form an extremely diverse species, that despite our differences humans can still exist in unity. The cast also add good humour to the mix: during a fight scene between two men on suspended hoops – a highlight of the show – one character literally pulls the other’s leg clean off.
As the characters reflect, we are introduced to their pasts, each compiled of poignant moments and delivered via a blend of circus tricks, dance routines, song and narration. The narration itself is delivered vocally (in English and Spanish) and through sign language, often at the same time, which adds an extra dimension to the production’s presentation.
The play is fraught, fast-paced and unrelenting, supported by a dissident, unnerving musical score, which refuses the audience rest and cleverly diffuses the potential for overwrought sentiment. Belonging does at times feel amateurish and slightly undercooked, and the acting is often flat. The dialogue, although infrequent, is obvious and hackneyed, which in turn hinders some of the play’s successes. A more focused and tighter narrative thread would have surely increased its accomplishments.
That said, although it may not achieve all of its ambitions, the production does provide laughs, beauty and philosophy. When compared to its flaws these are much more significant achievements. Combined with its unique brand of circus theatre, Belonging delivers quite the act.