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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: 'Flip Fabrique: Catch Me' at the Underbelly Festival, 23rd May 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Flip Fabrique: Catch Me reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

It's a real good time to be a fan of attractive people spiralling through the air. Compagnie XY have just wrapped up an excellent run at the Roundhouse and this year's Underbelly Festival promises a stellar lineup of acrobatic entertainment all summer long. As a mark of the upswing in popularity of these shows, Underbelly opens its gates with Flip Fabrique's 'Catch Me', an acrobatic show in which the laws of physics seem to be bent (and occasionally broken).

Hailing from Montréal, Flip Fabrique are Hugo Ouellet Cote, Jeremie Arsenault, Camila Comin, Bruno Gagnon, Christophe Hamel and Yann Leblanc. As is the style these days, they ditch sequins in favour of casual urban gear, which, combined with the chalk graffiti that appears throughout the show, the minimalist stagecraft, and the tasteful (if a little bland) contemporary music gives the experience a chilled out vibe.

But the aesthetic is just the side salad. The main course is their skills and boy howdy, these six are practically superhuman. All have physiques you could set your watch by and all have acrobatic and dextrous abilities borne of hundreds upon hundreds of hours of backbreaking training and working out. 

Even so, in most shows of this ilk, the first time someone flies through the air and lands with a smile the crowd lets out a collective gasp, but then repetition dulls the thrill as they become accustomed to what they're seeing. Not here. 

It's a mark of both their skill and showmanship that the routine that most audibly stunned us was their last. This was a trampoline routine that's a fine demonstration of Newton's laws. Hurling themselves off a high perch, the troupe loop and spiral around one another like a human perpetual motion machine. They run up vertical walls, rocket into a perfect handstand, and flip and tumble with geometric precision.

It's a breathtaking finale and a great example of the wisdom of saving the best for last. Of course, the rest of the show is no slouch. Each member of Flip Fabrique gets a moment to shine, with a particular gem being Hugo Ouellet Cote's jaw-dropping rope routine, which combines intense concentration with obvious taxing physical exertion, with a cherry of humour popped on top. 

The only thing us that next to the stunning acrobatics, the more traditional juggling and diabolo routines feel a bit overfamiliar. Don't get me wrong, it's a really good juggling act, but anyone familiar with this kind of show will be all too used to this kind of thing. The diabolo routine is a bit better - one of the best I've seen in a while in fact - but again it pales in comparison to the acrobatic routines.

Iffier are the show's stabs at comedy, which primarily consists of loud screeching, babbling nonsense and OTT mugging. Most of thiscomes courtesy of Bruno Gagnon, who appears to be trying to inject a bit of traditional clown slapstick into the show. Judging by the audience's baffled, laugh-free reaction to Gagnon's antics it simply isn't hitting. Perhaps there's a bit of cultural miscommunication here: the broad gallic comedy not a great fit for a British audience.

But hey - this is all nitpicking. When Catch Me is firing on all cylinders it's utterly engrossing. I was on the edge of my seat in wonder at the best bits, finding myself gasping and applauding on pure instinct. It's a fantastic choice of premiere for a very promising Underbelly festival, and I can't imagine anyone coming away from this without a wide, happy smile plastered across their face. 

'Flip Fabrique: Catch Me' is at the Underbelly Festival on the South Bank until 9th July. Tickets and details here.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: 'Cosmic Trigger' at the Cockpit Theatre, 4th May 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Cosmic Trigger reviewed by David James

Rating: 5 Stars

Thus far, 2017 is a grey, chilly void. May is here but the darling buds are nowhere to be found: cemented over by unseasonally frozen winds, deprived of energy by a slate grey prison of an overcast sky, and trampled on by huddled masses who can't believe they're still having to put a fucking scarf on to go to the shops. 

Not to mention that (based on all current polling predictions) it seems as if this miserable May is here for the foreseeable future, presiding over a spiteful country hellbent on flushing itself down the economic, political, and humanitarian plughole. We're staring down the barrel of a shitty future and the present ain't too hot either.

All this makes me deeply appreciative of Cosmic Trigger, the theatrical equivalent of someone pounding a syringe of adrenaline into my gloomy heart. It's a primary coloured explosion of optimism and intelligence, delivered with sincere joy and a sincere love of humanity. 

Ostensibly an adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson's loose autobiography Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati, Daisy Eris Campbell's play winds and curls through Wilson's text like a worm munching through an apple, chronicling the intellectual and spiritual evolution of seminal counterculture author Robert Anton Wilson (Oliver Senton), whose seminal conspiracy adventure books The Illuminatus! Trilogy (co-authored with Robert Shea) have subtly woven themselves into the popular consciousness. 

We first meet him as editor of the Playboy forum advice column, a position which brings him into contact with heavy hitters like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Kerry Thornley (among others). The psychedelic culture propels him towards an esoteric magickal and political awakening via Crowleyian occultism, a process which alters his brain, causing him to reject the concept of objective truth.

But that's just the bleached skeleton of Cosmic Trigger - and it's the flesh surrounding it that's oh-so-juicy. This is a night that opens with a striptease from a goddess, features a man wildly fucking a giant inflatable apple, has a hovering shark swimming across the stage, cunnilingus on a female Stretch Armstrong, and... well. I could go on, but it'd be a sin to spoil the night's many delights. This one show has more interesting stuff going on than a whole season of other plays, each scene coming complete with its own idiosyncratic pleasures - be they dramatic, visual, or musical.

Whether we're in 1950s New Orleans, a mushroom party for magicians and technocrats, backstage at a Liverpool theatre, within a vast secret submarine or the cosmic depths Wilson's mind, the show keeps a firm hand on the thematic tiller. As far as I can see this is primarily because Cosmic Trigger's playwright has a supremely confident grasp on Robert Anton Wilson's philosophies. Then again, given that the playwright was apparently conceived backstage during Ken Campbell's groundbreaking 70s theatrical adaptation of Illuminatus!, if anyone's going to successfully map out this tangled territory it's her.

The play is composed of many tangled threads which eventually braid together into an exaltation of Wilson's optimistic conclusions: that social, sexual, and psychological limitations are largely imposed from within, that humanity has the ability to shed restrictive dogmas and ideology, and that reality is exceptionally mutable. Having this lesson taught so vividly made me feel like a drowning man finally thrusting his head up from the depths to gulp a full lungful of air. 

I originally came at Wilson via a meandering trajectory that began watching The X-Files as a kid, which led me to The Fortean Times, which in turn led me to many of my all time cultural icons: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chris Morris, Alan Moore (whose unmistakable voice and face appears throughout Cosmic Trigger), Grant Morrison (specifically The Invisibles) and to Wilson himself, whose writing blew my (at the time somewhat chemically addled) mind. 

Cosmic Trigger combines this panoply of influences into a singular experience - a distillation of mental rebellion against a system that damn near everyone realises is completely fucked, yet ticks along because nobody can think of anything better. For brief moments, this play allows us to imagine that 'anything better', the Cockpit Theatre all-too--briefly becoming a glimmering bubble of illumination amidst the miles of beaten down concrete.

There are times when you sense that Cosmic Trigger is merely the latest ripple in a ritual that's been gradually unfolding for generations - a throughline that began at Crowley and wound through the 60s counterculture, passing authors like Burroughs, Wilson, Dick, and Moore, through Ken Campbell's Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, the music of the KLF, and finally, tonight, to the Cockpit Theatre. The play bears this cultural weight with grace and style.

Perhaps this isn't the most objective of reviews - I went in a fan of Robert Anton Wilson and, let's face it, any play that features Alan Moore as a supercomputer called FUCKUP is going to be hard for me to resist - but this  was one of the most enjoyable, uplifting and entertaining plays I've seen in quite some time. The cast are all fantastic, the stagecraft is phenomenal, and the writing is sensitive, witty and (when it needs to be) outright heartbreaking. Cosmic Trigger is a real triumph of theatre: boisterously beating back the grey, dystopian miseries of Trump, Brexit and allllllll the rest. 

Cosmic Trigger is at the Cockpit Theatre until 27th May 2017. Tickets here. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: 'All Our Children' at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 2nd May 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

All Our Children reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

"An average annual removal of 700,000 to 800,000 of the weakest of a million babies means an increase in the power of the nation" so said Hitler in a 1929 speech. A perversion of Darwin's 'survival of the fittest', this philosophy of racial hygiene and a vision of a 'purified' German people was to lead to the darkest nights of the human soul. The most notorious of these was, of course, the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were incinerated in the ovens of death camps.

Somewhat less well known is Aktion T4, in which German doctors were given authorisation to select patients judged "incurably sick" and euthanise them. This programme became a way to excise disabled children from Hitler's brave new world, variously arguing that they're putting them out of their misery, that they're an economic burden to the state, and that they cannot allow 'harmful' genes to proliferate. The architects of this policy anticipated opposition to the systematic murder of children, so told the parents of disabled children that they were being cared for, covered up that they'd been gassed and burnt, and falsified death certificates.

Stephen Unwin's All Our Children dramatises the bureaucracy behind this horrible machine. It's set in 1941, and takes place entirely within the cosy, wood panelled office of Dr Victor Franz (Colin Tierney), Chief Paediatrician at the Winkelheim Clinic, near Cologne. Dr Franz has the pragmatic air of the experienced physician,  comfortable in his skin and confident of his experience. He's assisted by his maid Martha (Rebecca Johnson), with whom he has the casual back-and-forth that comes with old colleagues.

Were these normal times, Dr Franz would spend his time caring for his young patients and doing his best to ease their various discomforts. But these are not normal times. Newly arrived at the clinic is SS man Eric Schmidt (Edward Franklin) - a Nazi fanatic eager to bloodily realise Hitler's utopia. And so an unhappy Dr Franz spends his days choosing which of his patients to dispatch to the gas chambers, each signature chipping away at his soul and his perception of himself as a 'good man'. Over the course of the play, his self-deception is gradually demolished, first by an angry parent (Lucy Speed) demanding to know what's become of her son,  and then by the visit of Bishop von Galen (David Yelland), who argues for the basic sanctity of life (and you know you've screwed up when the Catholic Church is lecturing you on mistreating children).

Unwin's play largely functions as a tautly, righteously angry evisceration of the intelligent but morally weak Dr Franz. He, like many of his generation, wilfully suppressed their consciences for the sake of maintaining a steady lifestyle, which Unwin conveys through a metaphor of the literal internal decay of lung cancer mirroring his moral decay. His are feet that need to be held to the fire, and Unwin takes no small pleasure in doing so. There's more than a whiff of Hannah Arendt's analysis of the 'banality of evil' in Nazi Germany, the doctor's actions bringing to mind her famous quote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” 

But All Our Children isn't just a furious condemnation of Nazi atrocities. Throughout the play Unwin returns to the concept of a citizen's financial worth to their society, with his Nazis brandishing figures that 'prove' a disabled person is a net drag on the state's funds, arguing that money allocated to them could be used to benefit the best and brightest. 

By the time the characters are talking about 'scroungers' the play becomes a none-too-subtle allegory for austerity politics, through which politicians assign blame for economic woes on those least able to defend themselves. This is why we're taught to hate and fear the desperate refugee, the disabled person claiming state benefits, or simply those temporarily without work. Meanwhile, the politicians, economists, bankers etc who're actually responsible for economic misery skate by in a cloak of invulnerability - at worst suffering a slap on the wrist.

It adds a further layer of anger onto an already furious theatrical experience. The Jermyn Street Theatre is a compact, claustrophobic place, making the audience feel hemmed in with the characters. This, coupled with the beautifully low-key realism of the staging and performances, beats out a steadily increasing rhythm that held me rapt for its 100-minute runtime. 

It's an excellent play that rarely puts a foot wrong and honestly, it's refreshing to see a straightforwardly realistic presented and mature of drama that doesn't call attention to its own artifice. I hesitate to say that All Our Children is enjoyable: I left feeling shaken and deeply uncomfortable. But then a play about the state-sponsored murder of disabled children shouldn't be enjoyable. Highly recommended.

All Our Children is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 3rd June. Tickets here.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: 'Divine Chaos of Starry Things' at the White Bear Theatre, 27th April 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Divine Chaos of Starry Things reviewed by David James

Rating: 1 Star

Paul Mason: award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and now the writer of a terrible play. This one hurt. Not because it's exceptionally, eye-wateringly, bad, but because I'm a big fan of Paul Mason's writing. I adored PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, an exceptionally well-written book that analyses contemporary economics with supreme clarity and confidence. I hold the guy in such high regard that when I was invited to see his foray into playwriting I leapt at the chance.

Divine Chaos of Starry Things is the story of the deportation of French anarchist Louise Michel. She was a key player in the Paris Commune, a socialist revolutionary government whose control of Paris (from 18 March to 28 May 1871), was bloodily ended by the arrival of the French Army. The captured Michel was unrepentant, daring her judges to sentence her to death, saying: "Since it seems that every heart that beats for freedom has no right to anything but a little slug of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I shall never cease to cry for vengeance." Badass.

Instead she was deported, along with fellow Communards, to New Caledonia a remote Melanesian island 1000 miles off the coast of Australia under French colonial control. Mason's play chronicles her time on the island as she forms a relationship with the native Kanak people and refuses to let isolation dim her revolutionary spirit.

That's the skeleton of what's on stage, though if you went into this show completely blind you'd be oblivious to most of this information. Divine Chaos of Starry Things is supremely unconcerned with establishing a narrative foundation, assuming the audience is already familiar with Louise Michel and the events of the Paris Commune. Perhaps sadly, this an assumption too far. After a brief opening scene we're unceremoniously taken to New Caledonia, where the particulars of the regime our characters have to suffer under or even their living arrangements are never clearly defined. 

A mitigating caveat, the opening of the play was supposed to have scene-setting projections telling us when and where the action takes place, but technical troubles meant these didn't appear. I'm not sure what these would have said, but it's reasonable to assume they would at least have helped establish the scene. But hey, you can only write about the play you've seen.

This lack of clarity quickly undermines the characters' political zeal. It's difficult to get fired up by Michel's revolutionary ambitions if you're not really sure what system she's battling against. This isn't helped by the lack of an on stage antagonist: the cast of characters limited to four women ex-Communards and two Kanak warriors. These characters amble through scenes with the propulsive energy of a rubber duck, breaking the rule of show don't tell by describing interesting sounding events that we don't get to actually see.

Worse, Louise Michel's dialogue is declamatory and overly didactic, with little insight into her as a person rather than a cold vehicle for revolutionary rhetoric. She's frequently put in the unsympathetic position of hectoring her fellow prisoners on showing insufficient revolutionary zeal by even considering accepting pardons. It's obvious that Mason holds Louise Michel in high esteem, but his dramatic interpretation lacks basic charisma. If this was your first exposure to Michel, you'd wonder what the fuss was about.

Performances follow a similar trend, with the personalities of the characters indistinct and the dialogue stilted. It's telling that by far the best performances are delivered by Jerome Ngoadi and David Rawlins as the Kanak warriors. Once you get over their liberal-baiting costumes they're a striking on stage presence, often balefully observing from the edges of the action. It's telling that the sharpest emotion I experienced all night came courtesy of them shooting silent accusatory stares into the audience during the interval.

That brief moment of excitement aside, this is an indigestible play populated by uninteresting characters who don't do much of anything and whose conflicts take place off-stage. As the first half hour trundled by I got to experience that horrible feeling of anticipation (awesome, a play by one of my favourite journalists!) evaporating away, with the hope that things might improve shrinking by the minute.

Mason is attempting to use Michel's inspirational actions as an example to contemporary audiences that we don't need to silently put up with the shit ladled onto us, and that even in the most desperate of circumstances liberational revolutionary action is achievable. That he's absolutely right doesn't change the fact that Divine Chaos of Starry Things inspires first disappointment and then eventually just boredom.

Divine Chaos of Starry Things is at the White Bear Theatre until 20th May. Tickets here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: 'Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways' at the London Canal Museum, 26th April 2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

It's 1943. You're a young woman eager to assist the war effort but bored of desk-based drudgery. You spot an advertisement from the Department for War Transport asking for women "of robust constitution" to work on the canals, hauling tonnes of cargo - steel, food, Spitfire parts, coal, munitions- around the country. Sounds like an adventure, right?

Judging by the fondness with which the women who answered the call recall the experience, it was. But it was also tremendously hard (and often filthy) work: a world of dirty water, poor sanitation, oil, soot and gross green canal slime. On top of that, they had to deal with territorial boat people who'd spent their lives on the canals and were deeply suspicious of these untrained young women arriving on their patch. Their badges had IW (Inland Waterways) emblazoned on them, initials that have given rise to another name - Idle Women.

But judging by the stories that we hear at the London Canal Museum, they were anything but idle. They come courtesy of a double-bill performance by Heather Wastie and Kate Saffin, under the auspices of Alarum Theatre. Both women are steeped in waterway life; Heather having spent many years with her family aboard an ex-working boat and subsequently campaigning to save canals from extinction; Kate having lived on a narrowboat and been telling stories about the waterways for 18 years. A chance meeting on Twitter made them realise that their two short pieces about the Idle Women would make an excellent double-bill. 

Which leads us neatly to the London Canal Museum. Despite having spent an awful lot of time on the canal tow path (I've run from Limehouse to Rickmansworth via Bull Bridge and up the Lea Valley) I've only been on a narrowboat once and know very little about what life on the water entails. This made the evening a rapid education in waterway terminology. Evocative terms are bandied about - stemmed up, windlass, snubber, breast-up, and butty - with a glossary on the back of the programme a huge help.

But, fortunately, not knowing much about canals puts me in precisely the same position as the women who signed up to the war effort. Kate Saffin's Isobel's War kicks off the night, an evocative overview of one woman's experiences on the water. Told through the framing device of a daughter discovering her mother's wartime diary, it's a recollection crammed with historical detail and interesting personalities. The backbone is Isobel's growing confidence in her abilities, which quickly expands from the individual out to the rest of the wartime women workers.

Heather Wastie's piece, Idle Women and Judies is more abstract, a collection of poems fused together from phrases from archive recordings, interviews, books, and news media. These pieces vividly, bring to life the sounds, smells, and texture of waterway life. We sense a collective can-do personality from women, who're eager to prove their competence and enjoying proving their mettle in a masculine industry. There's also a charming singalong at the end, with a seriously catchy chorus.

Both women are exceptional storytellers, their performances brimming over with personality and linguistic virtuosity. But the performance is the mortar that's holding the bricks of an extremely interesting history lesson together. Walking into the Canal Museum I was completely clueless about the Idle Women. Two hours later I felt as if I'd absorbed a hell of a lot of information, painting a picture of the domestic wartime victory achieved on the backs of unglamorous hard work and refusal to conform to traditional gender roles.

Kate and Heather are currently touring the waterways of England on their narrowboat Tench (details of their upcoming stops here). It's well worth stopping by, and if you're particularly interested in the domestic front of World War II or women's history it's a no-brainer.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: 'Braille Legacy' at the Charing Cross Theatre, 24th April 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Braille Legacy' reviewed by David James

Rating: 3 Stars

You'd be forgiven for assuming that a blind three-year-old boy in early 19th century rural France had a pretty miserable life ahead of him. At best pitied (and often mocked), the blind were considered ineducable, fit only for the most basic menial work. And yet that boy, Louis Braille, managed to create an alphabet that unlocked literature, communication, music for blind people worldwide and ended up buried in the Panthéon alongside Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Emile Zola. 

His life is the subject of Braille Legacy, a new musical written by French musician Sébastien Lancrenon, translated by acclaimed translator Ranjit Bolt, and directed by Thom Southerland, whose previous musicals Titanic, Grey Gardens, and Grand Hotel received positive reviews (though they didn't exactly set my world on fire).

Set in Paris' Royal Institution for Blind Youth, we follow the young Braille (Jack Wolfe), a bright young boy frustrated by the inadequate 'embossed type' books for the blind. Doctor Pignier (Jérôme Pradon) sympathises with his plight, though he's primarily concerned with securing government funding to renovate the dilapidated school. 

Parliament simply does not see the point in assigning funding on teaching blind children to understand literature, history, and music - an opinion they share with cruel teacher Monsieur Dufau (Ashley Stillburn). Things look pretty bleak for the children, until Braille receives an experimental system of "night writing" that an army officer thinks could benefit the blind. Braille soon realises the idea might have potential.

Watching Braille develop his alphabet makes for some pretty compelling theatre, with songs like 'An Alphabet' ably communicating the thrill of discovery and applied thought. Wolfe does an excellent job highlighting Braille's heroic nature, making him intelligent, kind, and selfless without sacrificing his more human nuances. He's got a fantastic voice and stage presence and is pretty obviously a performer to watch.

When Braille Legacy is zeroed on its subject it works gangbusters, an entertaining history lesson on the origins, key developments, and gradual acceptance of Braille in France and around the world. But bubbling away in the background of the first act and coming to the forefront in the second is an unsuccessful B-plot revolving around the villainous Monsieur Dufau, played with Disney villain broadness. 

This feeds into a distractingly lurid missing children mystery, which eventually reveals that they've been murdered as human experimental subjects in an effort to cure the blind. As far as I can tell, this is a fictional conceit to ramp up drama in the final acts of the show (there were unethical experiments conducted around the same time, but as far as I can tell not fatal ones), and ends up distracting from the show's putative subject.

It's bewildering that most of Braille's life is relegated to a rushed narrative epilogue - especially considering he went on to become a renowned musician. After all, this is a musical about him, and we never see him perform a single note. 

Then again, Braille Legacy's book is nothing much to write home about - full of musical-theatre-101 melodies and thuddingly obvious forced rhymes. You'd think a story about a boy devising a new alphabet would indicate a bit of musical experimentation in the book - surely it'd be better for Braille's unique alphabet to be communicated in the musical structure rather than just sung about in the lyrics?

On the upside Braille Legacy is a concise and uplifting biography of a fascinating historical figure that gives a broad overview of how he invented his alphabet. It's well performed, nicely staged, and doesn't demand too much from the audience. On the downside the unnecessary second act subplots distract focus and it's weak tea musically. My verdict? A bit touch and go.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: 'Compagnie XY presents It's Not Yet Midnight' at the Roundhouse, 11th April 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments

Compagnie XY presents It's Not Yet Midnight' reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Great acrobatic shows are as much about the personality of the individual performer as the quality of the tricks. After all, if I wanted to see technically precise gymnastic routines I'd just pop along to a sports competition. But French circus collective Compagnie XY's personality isn't focused on an individual performer hogging the spotlight but on the personality of the company as a whole.

Their latest show, It's Not Yet Midnight, is a classily minimalist demonstration of the group's skills and guiding philosophy. Whether they're writhing around one another like a centipede-limbed gestalt or spiralling through the air in defiance of Isaac Newton, it's genuinely thrilling. How can your jaw not drop when you see people stacked four high on top of one another: if they were to fall their only crash mat is the waiting arms of a fellow performer or the hard stage floor.

Despite this, it's easy to get blase about acrobatic shows. Yes, it takes years of pain, sweat and dedication to be able to do this stuff and yes, it's intrinsically exhilarating to see the human body flying through the air. But let's face it, if you've seen one person doing a handstand on someone's head you've pretty much seen them all. This is where circus shows can founder: the audience will probably be familiar with the impressive feats, and showing them something new requires elite levels of skill and heightens the danger to the performers (if your star acrobat is nursing a broken leg it kinda puts the kibosh on a tour).

What smart companies do is layer the tumbling and tricks on top of a firm intellectual skeleton - giving us a bit of context. And this is precisely what Compagnie XY do - giving us a physical argument of the merits of cooperation and trust vs paranoid individualism.

Which is why we open with a mass brawl. One performer strolls onto the stage looking pleased with himself, before being roughly tackled and tossed across the stage. He lands with a thump, gets up and launches himself at his assailant. Soon the room is full of tussling performers, all beating the crap out of one another. It's an eye-opening start and a fine contrast to an evening in which life and limb hinges on trust. Would you hurl yourself backwards from a second story building on the promise that someone will catch you?

It's Not Yet Midnight stacks people on top of one another like they're pieces in some gigantic Lego set, coming up with all kinds of unlikely configurations, or using the performers as counterweights to launch backflipping people high into the air from a seesaw, or as the legs of a multi-tiered human wedding cake. This combination of strength and grace impresses even the most sourpuss cynic - the audience audibly gasping and breaking into spontaneous applause throughout.

There's a few mistakes here and there (at one point someone painfully thwacks into the floor), but the flaws only underline the point that these people or not so different from you or I. This is helped by them all wearing muted smart casual - if you saw them on the street you'd probably think they were refugees from a GAP photoshoot rather than high-octane circus performers. That these normal looking people can execute such jaw-dropped acrobatic manoeuvres only amplifies the message - we are stronger together than we are alone.

Maybe the only fly in the ointment is a slight sense of twee-ness that pervades the latter half of the show - men with lumberjack beards, suspenders and ties energetically lindy-hopping teeters right on the edge of hipster self-parody. But quibbles aside, this is a powerful, effective and concise show that's pretty much guaranteed to please. It's Not Yet Midnight gives us acrobatics where the brain is at least as important as the bicep.

It's Not Yet Midnight is at the Roundhouse until 23 April.

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