As artistic director Charlotte Mooney admits, getting a load of poles together in a warehouse and playing with them for two-and-a-half months isn’t the usual way of creating a narrative.
But that’s how the breathtaking show Tipping Point, by the Ockham’s Razor troupe, came together.
Charlotte was the co-founder of the aerial theatre company, along with Alex Harvey and Tina Koch in 2004. True to their name, as Charlotte says, their shows are about ‘simplicity and cutting away unnecessary elements’.
‘The way we work is to try to draw the emotion and the narrative out of the circus movements. The name was a bit of a rule we set for ourselves not to throw in tricks for the sake of it, but to stick to the simplicity of whatever the story we were telling was.
‘Also, we work with a very simple aesthetic, particularly in this show – it’s just five metal poles, but we try to use them in as many inventive and unusual and different ways as possible, but starting with that very simple element.’
As part of the growing contemporary circus movement, they aim to take traditional circus skills and introduce the emotional arc of storytelling.
But they start the process by taking the equipment, playing with it to exhaustion and seeing what resulted. They then worked this in to a coherent piece.
‘There is a narrative to the piece. There’s five performers and the show looks at their relationships and charts the emotions between them. It’s set in the round and the audience are very close to it – you really see the labour involved and kind of the vulnerability in it – these people really can fall off.
‘The show revolves around these five poles – they can be hung from the ceiling, they can be swung like giant pendulums, they can be tipped, they can be balanced, they can be used like bridges, or pole vaults – all these different ways.
‘They’re chaotic, they can fall and they can crush you, so the narrative is looking at how this group of people copes with elements that are out of their control, essentially, and it can be really fun and playful and daring, and about pitting yourself against a challenge, or the runaway train you can’t control, so it’s very recognisable what’s going on from an audience point of view.
‘Or you can read it metaphorically – this is the bit in my life where I’m out of control and you’re seeing one performer trying to avoid five swinging poles. You can appreciate the thrilling part of it and at the same time, metaphorically it’s someone struggling with the things they can’t control.
‘It’s not a narrative in the way that Murder In The Vicarage is a narrative, but you see someone go from one emotional state to another and it’s very clear what’s going on, and you can understand it – it’s not hugely abstract.
‘It can be hard to describe because in a way it is a new artform, but that makes it sound like it’s highbrow or something and it’s not – it’s very obvious.’
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
July 25 & 26