It is hard to know where to begin with a piece so rich with imagery, so full to the brim with content that it is ready to burst, so funny and yet so heart-wrenching that you walk out not knowing how you truly feel. Dorottya Farkas truly brought the diverse talent of Circus Vurma to the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, revealing both the darker and lighter sides of show business. There’s no business like show business folks, so let’s dive right in to the innovation behind Farkas’ travelling circus act.
From the outset the piece revealed itself to be absurdist, not only breaking the fourth wall but well and truly shattering it to the ground with the eerie performance of Tansley. With his wide-eyed gaze out to the audience, sat cross-legged, waving his circus stick around the stage, I was truly captivated. His melodramatic enunciation was particularly good, enhancing the element of mystery behind the character. Adding to this strange mood and atmosphere was the hilarity of Auguste Voulton playing – Auguste. Master of the art of non-verbal communication, Voulton managed to convey comedy simply by hunching his stance, walking flat-footedly and making the occasional grunt.
His interaction with Leon Neubauer’s Leon was particularly hilarious. A standout moment for me was when Neubauer drew his sword (all euphemistic connotations attached) which so happened to be a pink balloon. Those of you with a delicate disposition do take care, for what follows is rather – shall we say – venereal. Voulton popped the pink balloon into his mouth and, well, Neubauer’s facial expressions responded with a look of sensual pleasure and it had the audience in stitches. This is one of many hilarious interactions between them, and I would recommend seeing the show simply in virtue of this dynamic. As well as this we have the sassy Madame Sosostris, played by the male actor Aarnav Tewari-Sharma, who strutted around the stage so well, flapping his (or shall we say ‘her’) various black dresses with utter confidence that the audience could not help but enjoy every moment of this actor’s stage presence.
But aside from the comedic elements of Farkas’ production, there were also some darker elements, enhanced by the emphasis of immersion. The smell of incense, the direct address, the various exotic musical pieces and Fergus Carver’s colourful lighting gels all combined to make every last audience member feel that they were a part of the glory of the circus. This was enhanced by the rich costume design of Aarnav Tewari-Sharma, particularly with the various exotic dresses of his own character Madame Sosostris. But when the theatrical façade slowly slipped, this immersion only made you feel the emotion all the more when the audience was thrown into the backstage lives of the circus actors.
One such backstory I particularly enjoyed was Alana Mann’s portrayal of the ballerina. From the outset it was clear from her cold countenance that there was a hint of jealousy between her and Svetlana the Contortionist played by Zoja Milovancevic. Mann’s portrayal of the frustrated ballerina in desperate pursuit of artistic perfection truly caught me at the heart strings, reminding me of Natalie Portman’s portrayal of ballerina Nina in Aronofsky’s movie ‘Black Swan’. Mann’s composed façade as she pliéed in her black tutu slowly started to slip to more of a look of frustrated desperation. This was made even more compelling by the subsequent SFX of a wind-up doll, as Mann turned robotically on a block, as the other actors menacingly surrounded her. It was a truly compelling moment, revealing the darker side of the circus’s theatricality. Combined with the poetic brilliance of Kumar, this moment was truly one of the highlights. ‘You watch the gold that I bleed’ the ballerina said, alienating the audience with elements of meta-theatricality that created an unforgettable theatrical experience.
Structurally, the division between the acts served as a transformation from backstage onto the stage – and the contrast worked so brilliantly. Instantly removed from the sombreness of the ballerina episode, the audience were thrown into the exquisite contortion of Milovancevic, Schmied’s unforgettable electric dancing, and the so-called ‘trapeze extraordinaire’ of Graziani. But the piece was not allowed to finish on such a moment of euphoria. Farkas created the perfect sense of bathos, revealing the aftermath of the show with the worn-out Circus acts stumbling off the stage – again revealing that with every artistic creation there is an alternative perspective.
Contrast, then, is the real highlight of this piece. In true Brechtian style, just as the audience were beginning to feel empathy for the desperate ballerina, or commiserate with the various conflicts between Madame Sosostris and the Ringmaster, this was interrupted by a moment of hilarity, often by Auguste the clown, a moment of slapstick humour or audience interaction. Such interaction did, at times, make me feel uncomfortable, especially when Tewari-Sharma approached me winking and dancing to exotic music. But this only made the piece all the more compelling. I felt both alienated and immersed simultaneously. By both zooming the audience into and out of the action, they truly felt the emotional impact of the piece, as well as the darker messages underlying the jolly circus.
‘Lost Connections’ was a triumph! Farkas has demonstrated clear innovation when it comes to devising, producing a show with ambiguity and sophistication of meaning that is bound to change with each re-watch. Ready to transport yourself to the wonders of the circus? You may want to be careful what you wish for.
‘Lost Connections’ is a Wrong Tree Theatre production being performed again on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th February at 7:30pm in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College.
By Josh Goodwin
Image found on Wrong Tree Theatre’s Facebook page. Poster design by James Bailey.