Friday, October 31, 2014

Ether Productions, 'The Locked Room': Flown Away With the Circus

Two circus performers wake up with amnesia inside a locked room. For Ether Productions, the only way is up.

Project Arts Centre
Oct 29-Nov 1

My review of The Locked Room coming up just as soon as I beat you in Rock-Paper-Scissors ...

Ether Productions have flown away with the circus. While the red and white spangled spectacle has long cast its influence over theatre, Niamh Creely and Jonathan Walsh show renewed interest by integrating it into their developed style of aerial dance. Ironically, The Locked Room seems set to open new possibilities. 

Two circus performers (Creely and Walsh) wake up with amnesia inside a contained space. Taking the card dealt, they explore the bland white setting and uncover an array of colourful objects ranging from a tune-blasting boombox to a hissing stick of dynamite. All the while, their relationship stretches and recoils between the tumbles, and below the unavoidable trapeze hanging above. 

In stark comparison to the company's last work Landfall - an aerial dance performed on an extensively suspended set - this performance demonstrates a restraint of excessive aerial manoeuvres. It prefers to spend a lot of time on the ground, using mime to carve out individual vignettes that contain stock gags, or lazzi in the physical theatre tradition. The clear cut images are effectively executed by the performers, much to the audience's delight. 

It's unfortunate that the event is mired by the logistics of its staging, specifically the several scene changes. The blackouts become frustratingly repetitive, as does designer Jonathan Walsh's soundbite of a clangor suspecting the locked door of the performance's title; a mystery that never gets solved. These transitions badly stunt the piece's momentum, and as a result it paces poorly. It isn't clear why the narrative backtracks through time either, though a fuzzy scene where a woman's electrifying nightmare manifests itself in a dance on aerial silk is suspected to intend clarity. Regardless, the image of the unravelling Creely against a stroke of lightning is spectacular. 

Fascinatingly, the plot advances through use of a circus vocabulary - manipulating objects (Juggling), balancing on harness (Equilibrium), use of tumble and trapeze (Vaulting) - accumulating with a spectacular finale. A swing from a trapeze shows Creely in full elegance, matched only by her partner, the witted Walsh, cutting handsome shapes in the air. It seems that for Ether, the only way is up.

What did everybody else think? 

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