+3 Review: Pss Pss (Assembly Roxy: 4-29 Aug: 16.00: 1hr 5mins)

“Utterly charming”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There aren’t many times that I wish I could construct a review purely out of facial expressions and hand gestures, but for this piece whose only words are the occasional utter of “Pss Pss”, it seems only fitting. It’s part clown, part mime, part acrobatic display and almost completely beguiling.

The performance is quite a slow burner to start with, with a short sequence where the two performers comically fight over possession of an apple – which wouldn’t look out of place in a Punch and Judy show on Blackpool beach – but when the music starts the fun really gets going and a real treat of a show unfolds.

Pss Pss dances along that very fine line between slapstick and gymnastic artistry, with glimpses of physical prowess and control that would put most performers to shame. Throw in the fact that they are also very funny and play musical instruments and you have a very impressive show.

Yet while physically impressive (by the end of the performance I truly believed there was no end to the performers’ talents), structurally it was a little lacking, with odd teases of narrative and motif, but little to drive it along from section to section, giving quite a stilted flow. I would have liked to have seen more plot and character development from beginning to end rather than a series of seemingly unconnected skits.

For all the skill and composure on display, perhaps it’s somewhat telling that the loudest and most consistent laughs in this performance were from the five or so primary-aged children in front of me. Although not specifically billed as a children’s show (indeed, their online listing says otherwise), some of the stunts seemed slightly more tailored to the younger audience, so I would definitely recommend it as a family show. Not that it isn’t enjoyable for audiences of all ages, but those with open minds and who are at least young at heart will appreciate it the most.

If there were an award for best facial expressions, Pss Pss would certainly be my early favourite – the range and timing throughout were enough to set most of us giggling at some point. The overall style and feel of the piece is utterly charming, even if substance-wise it occasionally lacks a little depth.

Beware, there is a small amount of audience interaction…

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

LoopsEnd (Traverse, 2nd Feb ’16)

LoopsEnd

“A visual feast”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

I have seen many spectacular aerial displays over the years, from companies all over the world,  and with their latest work, LoopsEnd, Edinburgh and LA based Paper Doll Militia is definitely right up there with the best of them in terms of risk, precision and wow-factor. However, while technically the gymnastics were great, I was a bit disappointed by the overall cohesion of the work.

A performance in two parts, the first half, Ashes, was inspired by the tearing down of an industrial estate where the group used to rehearse. The main visual element of the piece was two long ropes hanging from the rigging, twisted and weighted down with bags of powder. Even watching the ropes untwist and retwist in the empty space was graceful and compelling, and when combined with George Tarbuck’s stunning lighting design and the trademark tricks and treats of a seasoned aerial company, this piece was, at times, nothing short of a visual feast.

Throughout the performance, white powder was used in various ways to represent the “ashes” – one performer literally had a pile on his shoulders in the opening sequence, while the closing image was of the two bags attached to the hanging ropes slowly emptying as the ropes swung in the space. These individual instances were very powerful visually, but it was difficult to see the link between these, and any sort of narrative or progression within the piece. Indeed, many of the “theatrical” devices seemed under-developed and incomplete: there were too many moments of clichéd wide-eyed wonder and writhing around in angst, and at one point one performer walked back and forward many times, overtly undecided about whether to touch the rope. Such basic and overused devices unfortunately offset the splendorous vision of the other sections.

In the second piece, Unhinged XY, projection was also used, which in some ways added another dimension to the visual smorgasbaord, but in others gave a seemingly unnecessary layer of complexity and confusion to the action – again, it often wasn’t clear how the costumes, music, acrobatics, projections and design all married up.

The aerial silk work in this piece, and the use of wind and fabric combined to make some stunning visuals and standout moments. When one performer walked up a hanging piece of silk, weighted at the bottom by another, while competing with gusts around her, I was awestruck by the strength and artistry on show.

It was a bit of a shame that both pieces relied quite so heavily on overpowering recorded sound and music. While at some points it was great in setting and supporting the overall tone of each section, its constant use meant the work was unable to establish a mood for itself, so I would have preferred a more selective and sensitive approach to the aural aspects of the performance.

Overall, there’s no denying the talent and visual creativity that have earned Paper Doll Militia their excellent reputation. However, LoopsEnd left me somewhat hanging in mid-air, rather than applauding with my feet flat on the ground.

outstanding

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 February)

Go to Paper Doll Militia

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Wings in my Heart (Big Sexy Circus City : 7-30 Aug : 14.30 & 20.00 : 2hrs 30 mins)

“Visually and technically spectacular”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

On entering the Big Sexy Circus City compound one is greeted by acrobats just casually performing to the queue of punters, while a tightrope walker works his way backwards along a wire overhead, occasionally stopping to balance on one leg. You know, how a normal night starts. When you enter the big top, it only gets more impressive.

While the opening few minutes take a little adjusting to (there’s fire, there’s water and there are people parading around dressed as various fairground attractions for no particular reason), it soon turns into a circus spectacle with amazing acts, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

We’re warmed into the spectacle with a wonderful solo tap routine, accompanied in part by a drummer. The dancer starts in a small circle of light, and makes fun of chasing the light as it moves to continue his routine. A few minutes later he’s filling the whole stage with energy and playing a very enjoyable call-and-response rhythmic game with the drummer. Straight after this, there’s a breathtaking counter-balance rope routine, with two performers supporting each other’s weight while performing daring swings and tumbles. Their artistry on the ropes was incredible, while how they supported and propelled each other seemed to defy all laws of science.

Perhaps my favourite sequence followed directly after this, which involved a lot of balls suspended from the ceiling which swung like pendulums across the stage, with an intricate contemporary dance routine performed in between swings. How the performers managed to dodge them with such apparent ease was again a cause for wonder.

Also worth noting is the performance’s closing act, which I won’t spoil but is absolutely worth holding out for. Control and patience are brought new meaning with one performer and her selection of sticks…

Throughout this show the costumes, sound and lighting are all stunning. Each adds more depth to an already very sensory performance, and go to show how much love, care and artistry have gone into developing it. I’ll admit I didn’t really understand everything that was going on (there wasn’t a clear narrative or sense of development), but with a show as visually and technically spectacular as this, you really don’t need to. You can just sit and be in awe of spectacle, scraping your jaw up off the floor at the end.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 12 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED