The Southbank Wonderground has for the last few years developed quite a knack for showcasing gorgeously innovative, and often bawdy, spectacle. Bianco, performed by NoFit State Circus, is a find even for them; I was unprepared for how extraordinarily raw, fresh and passionate a circus performance could be.
Bianco takes place in The Big Top, a domed tent in the Wonderground – bicycles, old prams and large climbing structures on wheels are scattered around the large interior. While the audience is free to wander and explore before the show, there was no milling when it had started; this is immersive performance, and the set is live. Between every sequence stewards appear from nowhere, furiously directing you away from ropes and pulleys snaking across the floor. For the safety of the performers, no photos.
There is a giddiness associated with circus, a remembered wonder from childhood that can be reconjured by a talented artistic director, and Tom Rack is a master. The frantic instructions of the stewards, the rumble of the live music, the cries of the performers as they run through the crowds with curious and curiouser props; every element is designed to ‘rekindle the innocence that makes the audience marvel,’ in director Firenza Guidi’s own words.
Classic circus tropes have been reimagined here with new wit and heart; I fell again and again for the charming tipsy juggler, the shy slackline walker doing backflips and pulling off his trousers, the sensual aerial dancer tumbling through a hanging bedsheet. Every act is curated to perfection, with atmosphere defining music. The costumes were particularly beautiful – much of the show is in the air, and the billowing skirts and glittering tassels chosen were mesmerising.
While I’ve seen plenty of cheeky, lively acts of the sort, Bianco is the first to really tap into a more poetic narrative, that draws you intimately in the performance. Acts that would have been only impressive are transformed into emotional metaphors, with the additions of spoken poetry, ghostly choir and exaggerated, prolonged motifs. Through the endless climbings and fallings of aerial movement, Bianco presents us with struggle and torment, as well as laughter and delight.
At times, the acrobatics themselves could have been tighter – there was a fair amount of dropping clubs and wobbly tricks – but as the show is so raucous, they get away with it. That, and they make fun of each other throughout, so it all feels like a private joke that you’re part of; you applaud all the louder when they get it right.
Not a show for those who tire of standing, or are too stressed by moving through crowds to relax. If you can let go, and join the magic, you’ll have the evening of a lifetime.
Bianco will be running at the Southbank through to the 22nd January; you can book tickets here: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk
CAST AND CREW
Artistic Director: Tom Rack
Director: Firenza Guidi
Lighting Designer: Adam Cobbley
Creative Producer: Camille Beaumier
Musical Director: David Murray
Goblin: Iolo Lavender
Rigging Designer: Lyndall Merry
Costume Designer: Rhiannon Matthes
Production Designer: Saz Moir
Wizard: Tarn Aitken
Zoe Goldwater says
Bianco is an acrobatic, circus-style show taking place above and all around a standing audience, to a live band. Bianco is the perfect fusion of circus, music and physical theatre.
During the show, the audience are moved around by stewards and cast members so that trampolines, crashmats, ropes and metal framework can be moved around to support the next scene.
The show began in a round tent with tall metal frames with canvas around them, in the centre, with the audience spread all around. The concept of moving the audience around with the set was unlike anything I had ever seen before. This aspect of the production also made it very engaging and a lot more interactive.
The way that the performers could tell a story without words was incredible. They interacted with one another in such a way that seemed polished and rehearsed, whilst still being natural. This was particularly impressive because the fluidity of their movements made it look as though they were having a conversation. There were other times when they were competing against each other in more theatrical scenes. At these points, the actors appeared to be shouting at each other from opposite sides of the tent. Due to the size of the area, it was obviously not possible to verbally act out the argument, however the band did an excellent job of demonstrating the desired effect through music.
The part of the production which interested me the most was the staging. I thought that it was very interesting that the entire show was based around 4 metal framework towers which were adapted to accommodate each new act. For a tightrope scene, the four towers were drawn across to opposite sides of the tent and two ropes were attached from corner-to-corner in an X-shape for the artist to use. For a ‘swimming pool’ scene, a trampoline was brought into the centre and bars connected the towers to be used as ‘diving boards’. I think that this was a very creative way to make the most of the space and showed that you don’t need a huge budget and special effects to give an outstanding show.
The only criticism that I have for the show is the fact that you had to stand for 2 hours. Although I think that the concept is excellent, I think that the show could potentially appeal to a much larger audience if there were, perhaps, benches around the perimeter of the tent to be used before the show and during the interval. This would mean that the show could be more disability-friendly and easier for audience members who struggle to stand for long periods. If this was not possible then maybe the show could be condensed into a slightly shorter time frame by having faster scene changes or having an act in a different place (high up or to the side), whilst scene changes take place.
I would definitely recommend Bianco to a family or anyone who wanted to enjoy a lively evening of live music and jaw-dropping acrobatics. It was a thoroughly entertaining show and I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again.