I’m not a big fan of the circus. I guess it’s partly because I’m a snob, and partly because Dr Who taught me that clowns are creepy. The bizarre pride of family tradition and inevitable inbreeding (“8th generation circus family” “9th generation circus family” and “living on the road and only knowing circus people” combine in my head in unpleasant ways) doesn’t really help.
But hey, I was offered free tickets to Tabú, and it was an excuse to see something at the Roundhouse, which I walk past somewhat frequently and have never actually visited properly, so why not?
Tabú is promoted as circus meets burlesque and punk, and it’s not an entirely inaccurate description. Following the trends of new circus, there aren’t animals or greasepaint laden clowns (decidedly less creepy), but the show maintains a wonderful atmosphere, feeling appropriately grimy, dirty, like a slightly guilty pleasure to be attending this in public. The female costumes are what largely inspire the burlesque tag, lots of pre-war muslin and low cut high-skirted dresses (though no actually nudity and only minor stripping, usually to lose a large skirt on a trapeze).
As far as punk, that brings me to my favourite part of the evening, which is the music. While not punk as traditionally defined, the music is an odd blend of outsider (think Jandek lyrics meeting the Vaselines’ deranged tunefulness) mixed with new swing (Squirrel Nut Zippers), a splash of continental classic (Brel/Piaf) and a dusting of new wave. It’s all performed live, and I wish I’d checked the merchandise table for a CD - there really should be one.
The actual circus-ing is pretty traditional, spruced up by a steel towered behemoth out of a dystopian six year old’s Meccano set full of winches and human counterweights. There’s some avant garde use of video, and an entertaining scene done on perpendicular trampolines, one doubling as a projection screen. A few scenes, such as the opening use of silhouettes and the finale, are beautifully creative. Others are more standard fare, but it’s all supposed to come together in a look at the darker side of human desire. I didn’t always see it, and found the second half more cohesive, but it’s there for the people who want it (and can be ignored for those who just want a spectacle.)
The production is also advertised as promenade, which is misleading: the action is largely central and elevated, but the entire space is standing room and attendees are encouraged (and sometimes forced for safety reasons) to move around. My companion and I both moved around a fair bit, largely to avoid crowding and to take advantage of shifting our viewing angle, and found it a rewarding experience: sometimes moving towards the back or over to a side paid off big time, other times it was a decent but not in your face view. Most of the audience, however, stayed largely put. Your ticket, your call.
In short? It didn’t convert me to circus, but it convinced me that I should see NoFit again if they’re in town, and I think the production hit far more than it missed. Recommended.
Where: Roundhouse Theatre
When: Until 19 April, M-Sa @ 19:30, Sa @ 14:00
How Much: £20. You will be standing/walking for 2 hours.
Concessions: £18, Under 16’s £12.50
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Worth it for the music alone.
RZ Other Notes: If booking online, do your best to book directly through the theatre as your booking fee goes straight to the Roundhouse’s youth theatre charity.