Review: No Show
Image courtesy Chris Hoyle
What do you expect when you go to the circus?
The greatest show on earth?
The glitzy smiles, the glitter of sequins, the drum rolls as performers who seem super human effortlessly perform death-defying acts?
No Show joyously and heartbreakingly reveals what lies hidden beneath the showmanship.
There will be desperate attempts and heroic failures, glorious achievements and bruised bodies and egos as the performers push themselves to their physical and mental limit.
See behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution of the traditional circus performance to show the wobbles, the pain, and the real cost of aiming for perfection.
A show for anyone who has tried, failed and failed better.
I'm not sure whether this show is best described as circus or acrobatics.
Perhaps the distinction is arbitrary given that acrobatics are part of circus anyway.
In any case, I readily admit that my knowledge of this area of performance is scant to say the least.
No Show, though, is most certainly not the kind of circus that many of us might have experienced in our childhoods - the kind with animals being forced to undertake inappropriate and unnatural acts.
That kind of circus is long gone, leaving the human variety of animals to provide entertainment in the genre.
In No Show, five young women fluidly and seemingly effortlessly demonstrate enormous strength and skill in a variety of routines.
Now "effortlessly" may not be the most appropriate word (though I did prefix it with "seemingly").
For, as we learn during the show, there's not only awe-inspiring effort required to effect the routines we witness, but years of strenuous and gruellingly repetitive training is a mandatory prerequisite.
And it's exacting training involving substantial risk of severe physical injury.
That's made pretty clear in one of the routines involving an immense metal and very heavy hoop which could crush hands or toes pretty easily if it fell in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No Show is not simply a series of daring, polished routines following each other rapidly and fluidly in the way you might expect of a typical kind of short (10 or 15 minute) acrobatic performance.
And it's not meant to be like that.
In fact, it's almost a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be an acrobatic performer with some very polished routines inserted into the overall structure for good measure.
Along the way, we see Alice being coached in her handstand techniques and, as an adjunct to the main action, we also see performers stretching after their exertions.
It occasionally means there are times when the action is rather subdued - like when the performers are lined-up on the floor eating doughnuts which, though it gives them time to recover and a necessary part of their practise, isn't quite so watchable from the audience's perspective.
Even in Soho Theatre's sizeable auditorium, there's not quite sufficient height to enable some routines to be performed safely - so we get a humorous, floor-bound demo of what a trapeze routine might be like instead.
And there are other snatches of humour right through the piece, particularly when the performers balance on one leg with the other (leg) pointed skyward.
As you might expect, given the nature of the performances, the show is fairly brief at just over an hour, but that's ample to give more than a mere taster of just what these dedicated and highly skilled performers are capable of and what their careers really entail.
However, I'm not sure I came away from the theatre knowing very much more about the performers' motivations and just what it is that propels them to endure exhausting toil to perfect and perform their acts.
We clearly see them as driven people who push themselves to the limit, for example when one tries to beat her cartwheeling record.
And, as those who have endured agony in the gym will know, there's the obvious payoff of a feeling of exhilaration after strenuous physical exercise.
But the show left me wanting to know more about why these performers do what they do, which might have been achieved in one or two conversational interludes.
No Show, though, is certainly strikingly different and unusual as a piece of theatre, offering both insights and entertainment, and giving rise to many 'oohs and ahhs' from an appreciative, and sometimes gobsmacked, audience.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Soho Theatre
Our show listing for No Show
Read our reviews' policy