Thursday 26 January 2012

Tranquilised gentility

Mundo Paralelo, Southbank Centre, London

London International Mime Festival

Mundo Paralelo, a collaboration between NoFitState Circus, National Theatre Wales and Théâtre Tattoo, purports to explore the ‘parallel worlds’ of circus and theatre and to challenge ‘circus artists to find new ways of connecting with their audiences’.

How, then, does it manage to make circus seem so utterly untheatrical? It’s as if, grateful for the opportunity to step onto a proper stage, NoFitState have abandoned all the raucous energy that makes them so watchable for the airs and graces of polite society. Yann Tiersen style piano music twinkles throughout. Gracious courtly bows and dainty curtsies follow each act. Eliza Doolittle at the Embassy Ball was not so mindful of her p’s and q’s.

In trying to make the case for circus’s theatrical credentials indisputable, Mundo Paralelo manages to weaken both elements. The dramaturgy is so confused that it makes no sense as theatre, while, as circus, it never takes the handbrake off, leaving it largely safe, insipid and unspectacular. What’s wrong with creating pure circus that is nonetheless capable of metaphor and resonance, as NoFitState have managed so thrillingly in the past with work like Tabu or The Mill? The former insistently tells you it can do it. The latter just gets on and does.

Mundo Paralelo focuses on theatre’s liminal properties and its ability to step between different worlds. Performers follow one another through portals, vanishing and often appearing elsewhere a second later. As far as I could tell – and it’s such a miscellaneous mess that I can’t be sure – its narrative shows various individuals coming together in a magical forest type of space. Judging from the one audible voiceover section, there’s something about angels and humans in there too, but as for who’s what, I’ve no idea, as everyone seems equally capable of superhuman feats. Presumably, those in period costume are angels, but that rule doesn’t seem to hold fast throughout. Nor does it explain the waistcoated cowboy. (Again, I’m guessing.)

It’s only fair to mention the rapturous applause that followed, but, for me, it commits the cardinal sin of dullness. Circus is certainly capable of gentle tranquillity, but Mundo Paralelo struck me as tranquilised gentility.

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