With an injection of funding from the Arts Council England, Wandsworth Arts Fringe is back in 2018 bigger and bolder than before and for the opening night, we were treated to Hoops and Loops Cabaret, something of a taster menu of the events audiences can look forward to seeing over the course of the next two weeks.
The event was opened by the mayor of Wandsworth; Leslie McDonnell who delivered a warm welcome to all before the show proper began with our compère for the evening; Abigail Collins who was a lively and engaging hostess and a talented performer in her own right, taking several small sets between acts and delivering song, dance, and comedy with equal skill.
Following the introduction and obligatory ‘test that the crowd know what cheering is and how to do it’ section that every cabaret seems to do at the moment, our first circus act, Joanna Dias, took to the stage performing with the aerial ring. Dias showed great poise and precision of movement and was a good soft opener for the overall show if lacking a little in sensationalism.
With but a brief break between acts, we were treated to a preview of the show Knot, performed by Nikki and JD. Without giving any spoilers, it’s always a pleasure to see something that begins as one type of performance and ends as another and it was a very cleverly executed shift. Highly entertaining from a visual and theatrical perspective, this taster was enough to see that Knot has the potential to be brilliant. The majority of the show comprised an acrobalance sequence and the rest you’ll have to go and see to find out. The acrobalance was well executed and while at times you could see the effort Nikki and JD were putting into these physically gruelling moves and for some that may spoil the illusion, I thought it was great to see the performers pushing themselves and moving beyond their comfort zone.
Our next act were the first to add a prop to the stage in the form of a large wooden table and at first the group of performers that make up Lost in Translation Circus were all gathered around performing a slapstick/juggling combination that was very well choreographed before leaving the stage to one of their team only to perform a series of increasingly impressive and challenging juggling sequences alongside some contact juggling. I’m not particularly au fait with juggling tricks but I thought I could see increasingly difficult flash and cascade sets with increasing numbers of balls in play. It was a well-executed set despite a few drops and there was an underlying comedy to it that added a welcome extra depth, Moving away from circus skills, Finnish poet Nihkee Akka stepped onstage and informed us that she hadn’t got the instruction it was a family show, apologising for the content of some of her work. There were several performers over the evening who seemed not to have got that memo and it was something of an oversight on the part of the organisers. Despite her pre-emptive apology, Akka’s politically charged work was insightful and engaging and she even treated us to a poem in Finnish. Not something everyone would consider a treat per se but her delivery and performance of this poem was, I thought, the best of the set and she is a performance poet I would definitely like to see again.
Adding to the evening’s repertoire, comedy was our next treat with a taster of Jason Patterson’s Act Natural show, an intelligent and insightful look at life growing up on a council estate. Also not having got the family-friendly requirement, Patterson’s set was a little risque in places with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and his open and easy-going manner quickly won the crowd over.
Personally, I’m not sure his section on horror films added a huge amount to the set but it looked as though I was the only one who really thought so, so it could just be me being too much of a horror film buff. After this light-hearted series of performances, Matt Pasquet representing Edinburgh Festival total Theatre award winners Fauna Circus brought us another acrobalance performance completely different to the first. He began very slowly with precise, controlled movements and built in intensity as his accompanying music built. With the increased intensity Pasquet lost no precision or control and his often slightly unsettling movements were mesmerising in many ways. Best described by ‘hostess with the mostess’ Abigail Collins simply as “liquid beauty”.
Our second poet for the night was Marcus Reeves, performing several pieces around relationships, sexuality and modern app-based dating. Witty and brazenly direct at times, Reeves’ set had some quite tender moments that I found to be his best work and while much of his other content was arguably somewhat obvious in nature, I nevertheless found it to be entertaining. An artist that I feel would be worth exploring the range of work he has on offer.
The act following Reeves was an oddity that I found hard to reconcile alongside the other performers. This was the extract of A Modern Guide To Heroism and Sidekickery by Michelle Zahner. Zahner’s set was brief and left me a little unsure as to what the main show would comprise. It appeared to be a mix of character acting and comedy and based on the show’s late billing on the festival programme, I wonder whether her preview at Hoops and Loops was scuppered by it being family friendly.
The penultimate performance was a representative of Simple Cypher a company created by Kieran Warner and Christopher Thomas that blends hip-hop and circus. The set we were treated to was a dance-based performance carried out by the guest to the Simple Cypher group; Duke Lentes. Not to put too fine a point on it, his performance was excellent. Lentes’ movements were smooth and appeared effortless, perfectly choreographed to the music. For me, Lentes was the highlight of the show and if they are attracting talent of this calibre, Simple Cypher’s show has the potential to be spectacular.
Closing the show (except for a warm goodbye and impromptu song from Abigail Collins who had been keeping the audience engaged between acts through the whole night) was Joseph Keeley on the aerial silks. It was a nice touch that the show ended in a similar manner to the way it began and that was good work on the part of the organisers. Keeley was, like Dias in the opener, focused on clear smooth movements and less on the sensational side of aerial performance but when he did make efforts to wow the crowd, his execution was very good and while I personally prefer the high octane side of aerial circus, Keeley’s skill was apparent in everything he did and he was a fitting choice to close a series of performances that demonstrated how much talent is in the Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival, a festival that I feel should be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list.
By Damien Russell
Pitchbend Productions Presents
BATTERSEA CIRCUS GARDEN
THE BIG TOP
169 Este Rd
May 4 to 13 2018
Part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe
In 1768, on an abandoned patch of land near London’s Waterloo, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley drew out a circle in the ground, filled it with astounding physical acts – jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men and bareback riders and what we now know as “circus” was born. This spring, as part of the celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the invention of this art-form, the Circus Garden will transform a small park tucked away behind Clapham Junction into a circus mecca.