BY JEAN WEST
[star rating = 5/5]
Even though I thought I had a certain insight into Réversible, the European debut Fringe dish served up by The (extraordinary) 7 Fingers, following an interview with creator, Gypsy Snider, the swell of inventiveness and emotional charge that submerged the audience from the absolute start, to the deeply moving close, blew me away.
Circus is meant to deliver wows, that’s a given, yes? And in the literal sense the Quebecois troupe were true to this, as they inhabited the stage at the Assembly HQ on George St, in their set of homes and rooms. The acrobats were assured, precise, dazzling – some feats of daring engineered and mapped with near mathematical precision; swoops, somersaults, dives and breath-taking aesthetics.
But a circus show, which coaxes ready tears from wells of joy as well as pain, as it races rhapsodic through tales of everyday life, that frame the personal histories of each of the players with such feeling, made more dramatic, by the fact that these are true stories: wow indeed!
Snider, who hails from the Pickles Family Circus, and earned her own stripes with Cirque du Soleil, conceived the show after an existential experience pegging out the washing in a remote part of Massachusetts. Totally alone in the outback of the garden of her family home, she became frightened by her solitude and imagined all kinds of disaster. A bear could eat her, or she could just drop dead and not a soul would know.
And then suddenly she was engulfed with a courage as she remembered that her mother, and grandmother and matriarchs back through four generations, had survived the same uncertainty through two World Wars. Survival, began to interest her – not least as she herself had pulled through a late stage cancer a decade ago – and she wanted to explore how the acts that make people sustain birth new generations.
So, she urged the young people in the show to begin questioning their own identities and to probe the lives of their parents and grandparents at their age. In so doing she spawned a drama filled with the agony and ecstasy of life bringing the cast and audience up close with themselves. This is drama that when knitted together with the metaphors of circus and exceptional physical theatre, becomes utterly compelling.
And so, we have these characters literally juggling life, keeping ever-more balls in the air, see-sawing through the years, climbing poles, and slipping back down, like in a visceral game of snakes and ladders, and all the time sucking up more resilience, seeking balance, keeping the fire burning, sustaining.
A simple but effective set of rooms that morph quickly to fit each biography and explore the internal and external is fun and engaging. It’s the fastest soap opera ever – chaotic, hypnotic and addictive.
And beautiful stories emerge, the bride who didn’t want to be married, the boxer who quit the ring and succumbed to Alzheimer’s, the elegant, supportive love stories, the affairs and doors slammed to opportunity and relationship. Errant lovers leap out of windows and the tenderest of romances unfold.
“You came from so little, but you gave so much,” one player emotes; “You were always sailing away,” another tells, “You were always there for people but were they there for you?” one more.
It was seriously hard to pull a single scene out of the whole show that was more spectacular than the next. It was all near perfect. One young woman dances impossibly dextrously with hoops, two youths perform Olympian feats on a seesaw, and another actor’s hand-standing and balancing prowess brought gasps from the audience.
And then the product of all these yarns – this incredible cast, conceived out of so many different narratives all honouring their diverse pasts take a bow.
The wonder of the show is in the sustained elegance and beauty of the artwork these strong and vulnerable young performers create, visually and implicitly, moving into their futures through patchworked histories and their identity with the life force in us all.
Serving themselves up as their best selves – they honour relatives both deceased and still alive. Hefty loads, dusty secrets and lovely nostalgia are all revealed and spoken loud through the language of the body, and by the end everyone seems a bit freer.
Mad, moving and meaningful – life’s circus in the raw. Absolutely, not to be missed!