A Simple Space review – circus troupe with wow factor
Seven highly skilled acrobats combine dexterity with sweaty, up-close intimacy, but it's sometimes hard to judge what is real and what is staged
Flesh and blood … A Simple Space by Gravity & Other Myths, Udderbelly, London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
By Lyn Gardner
8 June 2014
Beginning with a sequence of falling in which the troupe repeatedly hurl themselves to the ground, but are always caught in the nick of time by their colleagues, the Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths lives up to its name in this crowd-pleasing, good natured show performed by seven highly skilled acrobats.
This award-winning piece is never short of thrills and the title doesn't lie. The space is small, simple and almost entirely bare, creating a sweaty intimacy. It's an idea that has been exploited by others to terrific effect, including Casus with the brilliant Knee Deep.
This show is no less dextrous, the performers are as talented, and the sheer number of people of stage is part of the piece's appeal. In a sequence towards the end, where human bodies are used like skipping ropes, or passed around in a swinging motion by the rest of the cast, it feels as if the danger is productively real for cast and audience. But the packaging sometimes gets in the way.
Many of the most interesting circus companies, probably aware that the average audience is not necessarily the best judge of the difficulty of tricks, are increasingly exploring what it means to be human through on-stage relationships, and touching on issues such as trust and effort. The latter is apparent here: the cast's laboured breathing becomes almost part of the soundtrack, a reminder that for all their impressive physical achievements, they are flesh and blood.
However, the show sets itself up in such a way that you can't quite trust what might be genuine and what is staged, including the breathing. This is summed up by a sequence in which the audience throw plastic balls at the cast, who are precariously balanced on their hands like human skittles. It's fun, but however hard you throw the ball, it won't have a real impact. Nothing is genuinely at stake.
It feels much the same in several other apparently competitive exercises, including strip skipping (family-friendly) and a holding-your-breath task – when the cast pit themselves against each other, but not in any meaningful way. Everyone always comes up smiling. The result is an entertaining hour with wow factor and cheeky, cheesy humour. Just don't expect it to mean anything, or to touch you emotionally.
• Until 6 July. Box office: 0844 545 8282. Venue: Udderbelly, London.