Under The Dark Moon – Bristol Old Vic, Bristol

Under The Dark Moon photo Joe Clarke 1

Posted on Public Reviews 11th April 2015

There are moments of such thrilling theatricality in Invisible Circus’ Under The Dark Moon; a woman plunging at terrifying speeds headfirst down a rope, a trapeze artist in full, elegant flight; that you have the urge to run away and join their circus. However, it’s the things that make you want to join; creativity without rules, art over all else, that mean it never goes fully beyond a showcase for individual acts over the artistic whole.

Bristol has always been a home to the counter-cultural and it is reassuring to see Bristol Old Vic open their main house space to circus theatre.  It may be more lo-fi than Cirque du Soleil but, from the lively audience on opening night, it is clear that Invisible Circus has quite a following in the city and deserves this showcase it’s getting at the Old Vic, home as our ringmaster tells us of “Daniel Day Lewis doing Cleopatra and Morecambe and Wise dancing on its stage.”

It’s an anthology of “terrible tales”, discovered and dreamt up by the company, where happy endings are seldom found. So we get stories of a man whose mind is over-complicated and ends up tying himself literally in knots, a girl consigned to dragging a heavy box across the ground but who wants to go chasing after a red balloon and a spoilt young girl who discovers you can have too much of a good thing. The mood is gothic; its palette American Horror Story Freak Show. The terrific five-piece band provides a constant soundscape which prods, questions and complements the action. There is thrilling work from amongst the company; Justine Squire on the Chinese Pole, Susie Glatt and Abagail Evans on silk and hand loops and Jack Rees on the Corde Lisse. These are the crowd-pleasing moments guaranteed to win the company a brand new set of fans.

There is no escaping how bad the book is though, it tries to keep all the stories up in the air but ends up providing a range of declamatory oratorios that prove as empty as the visual palette is full. Doug Francis, Invisible Circus co-founder and the storyteller at the centre of the piece, is a creepy villainous presence, but he can’t make those lines work and so even at 90 minutes one is left feeling like the piece is both too long and yet yearning for more of the show-pieces at its heart.

It could all do with sharper work from director Sarah Fielding, but if this is the start of a long term commitment to circus at the Bristol Old Vic – and with Circomedia doing such great work in the centre why shouldn’t it be? – then this is a more than promising start.

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