No Fit State returns to its origins with LEXICON, a show with a contemporary twist on traditional in-the-round circus. It draws inspiration from circus history and heritage and marks “the creation of a new voice for No Fit State”.
Set loosely within the theme of roguish Victoriana, the show contains a full inventory of circus acts, transacted with skill and mischief. Percussive wooden school desks become pendulously airborne, transform into daring bumper cars, and join to provide a sturdy bar for some jaw-dropping unicycling. They provide a recognisable but rather underdeveloped narrative link between acts.
Firenza Guidi’s unmistakable diablerie is here and it isn’t confined to the clownish tricksters who leap, throw and spin with lively abandon. Doddering, stick-supported matriarchs transform into defiant, skirt-hitching delinquents and take to the air as a Calder mobile; the Chinese pole taunts with promises of spinning delights at its top; there is love and anguish in the rope work and teasing flames in the juggling act that ignite roars of laughter from the crowd. There are moments of poignancy too as powerful gypsy laments underscore the physical strain of the exhausted performer, constantly on the road.
Much is laid bare in this production, from the gloriously organic man power that propels the action along the vertical, to the openly stashed props imbued with snatches of memory from a bygone era. Here is circus in circles, spinning its audience into another world.
There are a few weaknesses. Although performed for a seated audience in the round, there is a sense of being behind much of the action. It is unfortunate that some of the few female acts make the energy drop and they miss a narrative trick by not re-introducing the formidable school ma’am who could so easily provide a recurring personification of authoritarian rule against which to joyously rebel.
But there is a lot to like. The music is heartfelt, guttural stuff, hailing from myriad cultural roots and would alone keep a packed big top transfixed. The skill of the performers is quirky and quintessential; and Guidi’s method is everywhere: a drive to expose the intimate, dangerous relationship between a performer and their tools, to uncover the oft-concealed capricious intricacies of showmanship.
LEXICON is foot-stomping, heart-stopping, and gloriously riotous. Take the kids. Teach them how to rebel.
LEXICON is on until 9 June 2018 at the Volvo Ocean Race Village, Cardiff Bay.