C!RCA’s new show, premiering in the UK at Latitude Festival reminds me of nothing so much as the Lyric’s Secret Theatre company’s Show 5: A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts. The primary difference is that the tasks of the latter were small scale, low stakes ‘impossibilities’ – eating a lemon, hiding in a suitcase. In Landscape With Monsters they are circus feats – balances and lifts, climbs and holds. But they carry the same feeling of unpredictable urgency and anxiety that the 20-something Secret Theatre used to speak eloquently about growing up as a series of near impossible challenges.
In C!RCA’s hands this nervous energy keeps you on the edge of your seat through scenes that are markedly political. Rather than that swan-like quality of some acrobatic performance which hides effort, every shaking muscle, wobble and sweating brow is on show. This is hard work in a harsh world, populated with massive, heavy ladders and beams, wooden crates that hide bodies and have limited room. Rooted in each individual performer’s relationship to their fellows and to the world, the routines pit them against each other, in a race to the top, or a struggle for personal space and self-definition. There is not enough room for everyone on top of that crate or in that box. Something has to give.
Landscape With Monsters also forces the performer-characters to collaborate – finding workarounds and supporting each other to navigate massive set items – everything seems to dwarf the performers. The design is informed by and designed to reflect an industrial backdrop, pitting the landscape against its inhabitants who seem so fragile by comparison. Of course, naturally, they must work together. How could they not?
Their closeness as an ensemble is striking when something goes wrong: a see-sawing beam spins out of place and each performer – both on the beam and off – yell “No!” in unison and spring forward to steady the apparatus. But the piece never lets up in putting its performers’ heads between the lion’s jaws – or under a falling A-frame ladder. A heart-stopping series of feats with incredible variety and charm, Landscape With Monsters is the finest piece of circus I’ve ever seen, but it is also clear and compelling drama.