Landscape with Monsters. Circa. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until Saturday, September 16. canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700
The artists of the Brisbane-based group Circa have extraordinary strength, an astonishing flair for acrobatics and tumbling, and are amazingly flexible. All these skills are clearly in evidence in the group's latest show, Landscape with Monsters. The glitz, glamour and showy entertainment we usually associate with circus, and even with others of Circa's productions, have been stripped back. Colour is reduced largely to black, grey, and white, with occasionally a touch of burning red from flame-like video projections. Three tall, black, rectangular structures make up the set and double as screens for the projections. Costumes are not sequined or flashy in any way. The performers wear work-like outfits — jeans, overalls, black tops.
Despite its industrial and rather austere appearance, the show is interesting from a number of points of view. I admired its structure, for example. It begins with a show of strength from two of the performers — a flamboyant duet with the man tossing the woman in the air and around his body, with the woman taking on a variety of extreme poses.
It then moves on to a series of light-hearted interludes, performed to popular songs, in which the performers (there are seven of them) find a variety of ways to arrange and balance a number of different sized boxes. Most of the boxes have one side missing so we can see inside the box when it is on its side. Having arranged and re-arranged the boxes, the performers use them to find different ways of squashing themselves inside the often quite tiny spaces. Sometimes it looks like a game to discover how many bodies can fit into one box, at other times it becomes an exercise in flexibility.
Next, we see a series of activities involving a large steel ladder, a tall metal structure that could represent a skyscraper, and a seesaw-like balance beam. This part of the show is perhaps the most circus-like in that the tricks we see being performed look decidedly dangerous and rely on us having trust that the performers can manipulate the equipment without endangering themselves or us. Will that enormous ladder fall forward into the auditorium? And, of course, it doesn't.
The final section returns to the style of work we saw at the beginning — a show of strength. But, as a finale, it involves all the performers rather than just two. And this time the strength is in the ability of the performers to balance in pyramid-like poses.
The title of the show, Landscape with Monsters, is intriguing and generates questions as the work proceeds. The landscape, I guess, is the sterile environment in which the show takes place. Are we, represented by the performers, the monsters who have destroyed the landscape? It can be what you like, but we can only admire the skill of these Circa artists.