tue 21/08/2018

NoFit State Circus present Lexicon, Brighton Festival review - a wild eye-boggling jamboree | reviews, news & interviews

NoFit State Circus present Lexicon, Brighton Festival review - a wild eye-boggling jamboree

NoFit State Circus present Lexicon, Brighton Festival review - a wild eye-boggling jamboree

Vivid big top action makes a hugely enjoyable opener to Brighton Festival 2018

Walking in the air

When an acquaintance heard my first review of the Brighton Festival was a circus event they snorted, “Oh dear.” It’s strange; for a couple of decades there’s been a default setting among broad swathes of otherwise artistically-inclined Boho sorts: that circus is embarrassing and naff. Think of all those sniping jokes about jugglers at festivals and circus skills workshops. It’s all rather bizarre, especially pondered in the post-performance glow of Wales-based collective NoFit State Circus’s fantastic new show Lexicon. It’s hard to see what could possibly be naff about the human body doing things that seem impossible, beautifully lit, with vibrant live band accompaniment, amid a wild, carnival sense of spontaneity.

To start with, Lexicon takes place in an actual big top on Hove Lawns, by the seafront which, given it’s a gorgeous sunny day, is a great start. The big top itself is initially underwhelming from the outside, not a bright Victorian-style, fairground-themed affair but a giant, grey, domed nipple. Once inside, however, that’s irrelevant, with the performers mingling, doing walkabout theatre, hyping the atmosphere.

Things begin with the whole troupe sat at three rows of desks set on rails, naughty schoolchildren throwing paper about to a mesmeric Philip Glass-ian soundtrack provided by a band set to one side. That is until “teacher” arrives floating over them in a green housecoat. From there things quickly turn to anarchy as the desks float off into the air, like triple-headed sky-sledges, their inhabitants throwing more stuff about. The tone is set.

Over the next couple of hours, the eyes are soundly boggled. The show balances wild silliness and clowning with slower, more balletic acrobatics using silks, ropes, swings and one performer walking elegantly about on a pair of metal plates with handles that act as walking stick controllers, which he then hand-stands on and gives an astounding display of strength and balance.

It should be added that the word “clown” is used to encompass the skill set rather than any It!-style figures with white face-paint and red noses. Chief among these is a wildly curly-haired fellow in braced-trousers (to my shame, I’ve no reference programme to tell you names) whose energized antics are vitally dynamic, especially when clambering and flipping up and down a tall steel pole in the most outrageous, dangerous-looking fashion.

A high octane swing act towards the end may be the most viscerally nerve-wracking moment but there are multiple acts that defy belief. Chief among them are a female performer who, playing drunk, does a stunning balancing act on what looks to be a slack washing line, and the unicyclist Sam Goodburn whose trickery and skills are beyond anything this writer has ever witnessed in this vein. All the wacky antics involving NoFit State’s ensemble of demented bicycles is euphorically fun.

If pushed to critique Lexicon, small muffed moves and errors seem not to matter as they’re built into its earthy, anything-goes spirit, but the first half does seem more dynamic than the second, which is a curious way of doing things, and the second might even benefit from a trim. But these are truly minor quibbles. Overall, Lexicon is as delight. I've taken away a multitude of deliciously surreal memories, such as two performers playing chess on a single moving bicycle followed by a bobble-hatted servant on a unicycle worriedly trailing after them bearing a lamp to light them. It’s not the sort of thing you see every day, and nor is Lexicon.

Overleaf: Watch a trailer for Not Fit State Circus's Lexicon show

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