Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance, physical theatre and circus reviews: Cirque Alfonse: Animal | Muse | The Music Box | Are You Guilty? | Wild Onion
Roll up, roll up for anarchic farmyard antics, high-flying trampoline work and a dance two-hander with a very good dog in our latest round-up of Fringe highlights. Reviews by Kelly Apter and Fergus Morgan
Cirque Alfonse: Animal ****
Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360), until 27 August (not 22)
Since arriving like a brick through a window with Barbu in 2015, Cirque Alfonse has become a Fringe staple. Very much a family affair, the Quebecois company has a slightly anarchic approach to circus, and probably life, that sets it ever so slightly apart from the crowd. Animal may not have the same intensity as Barbu, but like their show Tabarnak before it, takes a theme and runs with it.
This time around, we’re down on the farm and everything they lift, stand on or throw is related to animal husbandry. Milk churns, cowbells, wheelbarrows, feed buckets and even a mini tractor for the 70-year-old patriarch of the family, all come into play. At the core (quite literally in terms of their cast-iron stomach muscles) is a much-practised ability to lift and balance. Body towers on teeterboards, acrobatic balancing atop two milk churns, flips with multiple turns high in the air and a Chinese pole balanced on broad shoulders are just some of the farmyard antics.
Between these impressive feats, in true Alfonse style, there are moments of light relief. A large flock of plastic chickens is turned into juggling batons, three men take part in competitive egg juggling (with grandpa clearing up the inevitable mess) and a whole lot of clucking and wing flapping fills the gaps. All the while the band plays on, delivering catchy and uplifting original songs (in French) and, on occasion, playing and executing a circus skill simultaneously.
This close-knit circle of family and friends has been going for 17 years and, if the curtain call is anything to go by, its future is secure. Joining their family on stage, two children and a baby are individually lifted high in the air by one strong hand without a glimmer of fear. The next generation of Alfonse stars is on its way. Kelly Apter
Assembly Hall (Venue 35), until 28 August (not 22)
Canadian circus company Flip Fabrique is known for wild trampoline work, gravity-defying stunts and, at times, silliness. All of which are present and correct in its new offering, Muse. But unlike previous shows such as Blizzard and Six˚, this time the Quebecois troupe has an important point to make – even if it’s made in the most light-hearted of ways.
Exploring what it means to be a man or a woman, Muse gently pokes fun at societal gender norms. First they dress up as American footballers, with big shoulders and helmets, then they pull on colourful tutus. Nothing is taken too seriously, but the soundtrack of quotes interspersed with the music hints at something more profound. Lines from Emma Watson’s 2014 UN speech about gender equality, a quote from Gloria Steinem about women being “linked, not ranked” and Maya Angelou reading her poem Still I Rise all give pause for thought.
The latter in particular, feels especially powerful, accompanied as it is by a strong Chinese pole act from a Black female performer. Likewise a gorgeous aerial routine by a male performer who spends much of the show making up his face, then pulls on some high-heeled boots, climbs up and soars.
At one point, the gender divide turns into a competition as a group of men and women try to outdo each other with a display of muscular balancing. In the end, they join forces and appreciate each other’s strengths. There is an abundance of flexibility, gymnastic daring and dexterous movement throughout – but as with all of Flip Fabrique’s shows, it’s the trampoline finale that really blows the roof off. When everyone, regardless of how they define themselves, flies high in every sense. Kelly Apter
The Music Box ***
Pianodrome (Venue 391), until 22 August
There’s a slightly scatter-brained vibe to Nikki Hill of Welsh theatre company Dripping Tap, that belies the tight control she has over this show. “Do you know why we’re here?” she asks on arrival, three ballet shoes tied to one foot and a tail made of folded paper. The implication being that she doesn’t and that whatever unfolds next will be because of happenstance rather than planning.
Of course, Hill knows exactly what she’s doing and a mild sense of chaos is part of the show’s appeal. To call The Music Box a one-woman performance would be slightly inaccurate for she is, wonderfully, joined onstage by her dog. Well behaved and astute at catching flying objects, “Dog” (no name, just a descriptor) steals the show at times but is a welcome presence throughout.
Some of Hill’s silliness is layered with deeper meaning (a bag full of bills and government documents weighing her down, for example), other times it’s just her messing around on roller skates and knocking over a mannequin. The former shines brighter than the latter and more of that would give this two-hander something substantial for the audience to grasp hold of. Kelly Apter
Are You Guilty? ***
Dance Base (Venue 22), until 28 August (not 22)
Are You Guilty? is two shows in one: a double-bill of contemporary dance pieces from dynamic South Korean company TOB Group and choreographer Kim Sun, brought to the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Korean Showcase, a regular feature at the festival.
The first – that is Are You Guilty? – allegedly explores the “bystander effect”, the social theory that we are less likely to help someone in need if other people are present. It is okay – a furious, 15-minute three-hander involving a lot of fidgeting and fighting around a trestle table – but it doesn’t effectively evoke any of the issues it says it will.
The second piece, Barcode, is far stronger. It sees a six-strong ensemble entertainingly explore consumerist culture to a slick soundtrack of hip-hop beats. First, they slide and spin around a set of large black boxes, rearranging them as they go as if playing an enormous game of Tetris.
Then, they arrange themselves into a production line, feverishly manipulating smaller, cardboard boxes with letters stamped on their sides. In an astonishing feat of athleticism and organisation, they toss and twirl them like dice, spelling out different words as they go.
A mixed double-bill then. But dump the first bit, develop the second, and it would be a sensational single show. Fergus Morgan
Wild Onion **
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), until 27 August
The power of friendship to heal our wounds is the central premise in Wild Onion. Daisy, Rachel and Adam enjoy a strong bond and have been through some tough times together. Whether hearing about this, amid much pounding of leeks and onions, constitutes a theatrical show is another matter. Some of it works – a skilful Cyr wheel display and a clever retelling of a real-life event using a member of the audience. But much of the chat and mini dance routines would feel more at home in a living room than before an audience. It would also waste a lot less vegetables. Kelly Apter