Review: Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine, Roundhouse

Opening this year’s CircusFest, Pirates of the Carabina’s Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine offers gentle delights at the Roundhouse

As we mark the 250th anniversary of the invention of modern circus, it is interesting to see how its presence is becoming ever more noticeable in the West End. Whether through the forward-thinking La Soirée or the more traditionally-inclined Cirque Beserk (going into the Harold Pinter later this month), the appetite for entertainment beyond theatre is clearly there.

Up in Chalk Farm though, this is not news. The Roundhouse has long championed contemporary circus through its biennial CircusFest and this year’s festival kicks off with Pirates of the Carabina’s Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine. And perhaps conscious of the need to make their mark in an ever-crowding marketplace, it is a show that relocates its derring-do with a unique energy. 

From the elegiac beauty of its opening sequence of floating bodies in a human carousel, through the gentle playfulness with tangles of ropes, the mood is heavily underscored by live music (by Meg Ella, James Williams & The Company). And it lends a cinematic heft to sequences which are allowed to play out a little longer than you might expect, the company less concerned about ‘trick, applause, trick, applause’ than maintaining this gently fun atmosphere.

That’s not to say there aren’t some wow moments – I doubt you’ve seen many people mount a trapeze this way…. – but it is interesting to look at circus a different way, as director James Williams encourages us to do. Gender dynamics explored through playful tricks, the graceful counterbalancing strength laid bare for us to see, the company all seemingly able to pick up any instrument to add to the gorgeous wash of the soundscape.

I loved the elegant, artistic touches that were threaded throughout the show too – the percussive beats of a typewriter, a bit of moody French spoken word, a piano that floats. And humour too, in a very temperamental staircase and some inventive chase sequences. Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine may not necessarily be the ooh and aah circus of your expectations but it is no less interesting for it.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Main photo: Bangor Jan
Other photos: Ollie Millington
Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine is booking at the Roundhouse until 15th April

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