The Bekkrell Effect is circus based on Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity. The performers’ bodies are atomic, oscillating between attractive and antagonistic impulses. They are drawn together, vulnerably reaching for each other across the corde de lisse, their grabby hands and intelligible squeaks desperate in trying to grasp each other. They catapult each other off the teeterboard like if Pixar did electrons. They strut in coordinated line-ups, chains of movement breaking and reconnecting, energy buzzing between them.
Mainly, they build things. The stage is a junkyard of circus kit that they (re)assemble and (re)purpose. The teeterboard becomes a counterweight for the rope work, an incredibly complicated bit of engineering. They create Heath Robinson-style contraptions, including one they hand winch upwards like a group of steampunk lady-pirates off to pillage the seven skies. The circus artists, Chloe Derrouaz, Sarah Cosset, Fanny Sintes and Louisa Wruck are heroic. Slowly shedding their khaki business wear (costume designer: Lorenzo Albani) they play with gendered outfits and circus clichés: sequins and silk dresses, a flying superhero complete with feather crested helmet.
This end-of-the-world aesthetic is amplified by Clement Bonnin’s lighting design. The bars of lamps are winched up, down and across the stage at the command of one acrobat dragged across the stage by the others in an improvised chariot. Colour changes involve the operator running manically across the stage throwing gels to the floor like an Edinburgh venue tech in a 10-minute show change over. (I understand its entirely dramaturgical design, but lord I hate to see a techie run. Always makes me VERY nervous).
I have been turning this circus show over in my brain all weekend. At risk of the wrath I receive for audience commentary, it’s the comment I heard on the way out that bothers me: ‘Yeah, there’s a VERY specific audience for this kind of work I guess’.
My issue is that I think I am that audience. I want my circus female-led. I want my circus clever. I definitely want my aerial performance without sparkly leotards and ubiquitous one note femininity (I learnt a move in silks the other day that we were told was a good one to know for ‘pouring wine from at functions’. That tells you everything you need to know about the objectification still present in the art form.) Yet though The Bekkrell Effect is all of these things, it left me strangely underwhelmed. It might well be that I just want more ‘wow’ and less thinking, but I can’t in good faith say that the show wrapped itself around my heart. It was so academic, it lost magic and felt like a good-for-you wholemeal cracker when I have a guilty craving for the excess that is a Wagon Wheel.
It’s also not, as it is advertised, punk. Thomas Laigle’s sound design is less anarchic Pussy Riot, more Mad Max (if Mad Max was a melodic French circus). The circus acts – aside from that mean feat of counterbalancing (and some beautiful pole work from Chloe Derrouaz) – blend into so much sameness. The slacklining and teeterboard acrobatics feel tokenistic, an ‘Ok, FINE, here’s something impressive’ outside the flow of the show. The Bekkrell Effect is circus with meaning and substance but lacking, perhaps, in soul and wonder.
The Bekkrell Effect is performed as part of Circus Fest 2018. Click here for more details.