Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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

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 MontrĂ©al, 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.

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