Reviews Bristol Published 1 February 2014

Logic of Nothing

Tobacco Factory ⋄ 27th January - 1st February 2014

Magnificent contraptions.

Geraldine Giddings

There is a certain something that distinguishes a highly skilled juggler from, say, an acrobat. In my seven years at Cirque Bijou I’ve worked with enough circus artists (including PanGottic) to be able to tell them apart. It’s not just that jugglers tend to be reserved, polite and thoughtful in their interactions with others. More engaging is their precision and their interest in extremely complex ideas. To be successful as a juggler, you need to have a mathematical mind – to be obsessed by patterns and sequences – meaning you often have a different way of seeing the world than, say, a physical performer like an acrobat. In short, you need to be a bit of a geek.

Matt Pang is a self-titled ‘Gentleman Juggler’, and one half of PanGottic, an established Bristol circus-theatre company who’ve won awards and acclaim for their street shows and touring work over the past five years. Their work blends the introverted, concentrated geek-juggler approach with the audience interaction of the street performer and the physicality that’s necessary for any performer who is working without language. It’s a finely tuned balance.

Their new touring show, Logic of Nothing has an amazing Wallace-and-Gromit-meets-Mousetrap set, all suspended wires, contraptions, hooks, books, and balls, a cluttered room with a desk, wardrobe, dresser, sink, shelves and a shower curtain concealing a toilet. A framed photograph of Albert Einstein hangs above the sink and before the show begins, the lighting gently illuminates certain areas of the set in turn: first the desk, covered in books, then a cupboard in the centre of the dresser, then the shelves. Details like these turn out to be a preoccupation running throughout Logic of Nothing.

Pang enters the stage via a wardrobe, carefully placing a white ball on a homemade mini runway as he does so, and setting off a series of chain reactions, ending with the ball bouncing onto the floor just as he emerges. He plays an inventor called Oscar Boffin, with his hair stood on end, incredibly pleased with his contraptions and keen to show us around his workshop.

The hour-long performance proceeds in ever-more complicated systems of action and reaction; these are sometimes clunky and imprecise, sometimes they fail to work, but more often they beautifully complete. Boffin is equally pleased with both his successes and failures, and Pang deals with dropped balls and occasional mistakes with an appealingly casual shrug. We’re here to see the inner workings of things, not just a finely honed routine.

It’s fascinating to watch these mechanisms at work and see what their outcomes are, as well as watching Boffin’s relationship to them, his playing and experimentation. And it’s not just juggling balls: he plays with water, toothpaste, toilet roll and other every day items too.

We get to see some ‘magic’ – a bottle of coke fizzes up when a balloon is placed over the neck, dropping in a measure of bicarb, with the result that the balloon inflates. The same balloon is later popped by a careering fork, and a flutter of coloured confetti falls to the floor. One of the key elements of the show lies behind the door of the cupboard in the dresser. With an endearing level of excitement, Boffin draws our attention to it time and again. I won’t give away what lies behind the door, but it’s something quite special.

The whole experience is magnified by Kathy Hinde’s ingenious sound design. By amplifying certain elements of the set – the underside of the desk, for example, the water dripping from the (onstage) tap, or the wires used for the ball-runs, it is as though she has magnified the situation itself. The suspense is greater, and our delight at the successes more deeply felt. This approach to sound is perfectly in keeping with the overall style of the set design, and PanGottic make the most of it.

A natural end is reached, with a lovely, complexly constructed routine involving an audience member which fails several times, but is salvaged in such a way that it is all the funnier. That’s a great skill. But then PanGottic take the show a step further and get the whole audience to take part in a final celebration involving dozens of white balls and metres of silver industrial hosing. It’s convoluted and imprecise compared to what has gone before, and flickers of frustration show on Pang’s face as he struggles to make it all work. It’s bad luck as much as anything, and the show could probably have done without it, however, in a piece like this, a misstep of this nature is not too problematic. It does feel as if there’s a little more work to be done on Logic of Nothing, but a degree of imperfection – as we’ve seen throughout – is part of the process and part of the piece’s appeal.

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Geraldine Giddings

Based in the South West of England, Geraldine is especially interested in multi art-form performance, circus, storytelling, outdoor arts and childrens' theatre. She has worked with circus production company Cirque Bijou since 2006 and also freelances in production, development, project management and marketing. A Circus Arts Forum mentorship in reviewing circus performance was a starting point, and she also contributes to Total Theatre.

Logic of Nothing Show Info


Produced by PanGottic

Link http://www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/

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