Barely Methodical Troupe returns to Underbelly Circus Hub with Shift, a piece of theatrical circus that bursts with curiousity and energy. It harks back to the days of Bromance. Daniel Perks reviews:

It’s safe to say that Barely Methodical Troupe have their curiosity back. After the success of Bromance, follow-up show, Kin, was a conceptual shift away from their signature brand of playful theatricality. And while Shift only has two of the original three performers (Charlie Wheeller and Louis Gift), there is an inquisitive innocence to its construction that has become synonymous with the group.

Shift is a contemporary performance of constant movement and experiment. Ever more difficult tricks are attempted and intentionally failed, only to ignite the sense of risk and elation that comes with the pay-off. Esemtalda Nikolajeff is a clever addition to the dynamic – she combines strength with a spritely energy, relentlessly egging the boys on. Keep playing. Keep daring. Keep pushing the boundaries.

Elihu Vazquez, whose skills combine circus with breakdancing, feels more like an add-on rather than a contributor here. His solo piece is a fascinating exercise in the technicalities of the form – it explores a routine without seeming like an instruction or a lesson. But in the group, Vazquez is more of a support that allows the likes of Wheeller and Nikolajeff to springboard ahead.

And Shift is a swift production. During the act, there is the sense of continuous movement and constant drive – stopping would lose the troupe’s momentum. The elastic bands are more than props to incorporate into the routine, they are a metaphor for the elasticity and potential energy that is ready to be unleashed. They act as both supports and safeguards, allowin the performers to push the limits without going too far (literally, in some cases, where the bands stop the likes of Wheeller from tumbling headfirst into the front row). They symbolise innocence and joy – cats cradles generate a sense of nostalgia. They restrain and control, turning acrobats into marionette dolls that are desperate to be set free.

Bu while Shift utilises these conceptual supports cleverly within the acts, they never overshadow the technical skill of the performers themselves. Nikolajeff and Gift form an instant connection in their balancing act, combining poise and focus with a carefree sense of play. Wheeller’s signature cyr wheel is the expected climax, one that starts with a serene, comforting warmth and builds to an exquisite crescendo with fiery intensity. Over a background that layers Vivaldi tracks on top of each other in a repetitive musical style similar to Steve Reich, the troupe are rejuvenated by the rise and fall of the wheel. Its energy replenishes this set of performers who, after an extensive period of play, have become exhausted from the excitement.

But the end tends towards calmness – the Shift of atmosphere turns the performance from frenetic into fluid. The quartet effortlessly bend and flex, as if swaying in a gentle breeze. After all their pent-up energy is released, the tranquil conclusion to this production serves to emphasise its preceding intensity. But the curiosity remains, glints in the eyes of Nikolajeff and Wheeller. Once they get their strength back, they will ready to try again. And it’s that impish nature that reminds us of Barely Methodical Troupe in a show that explores and experiments with joyful abandon.

 

 

★★★★☆

Shift runs at Underbelly Circus Hub as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 until 25 August 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.