No Fit State Circus: ‘Tabu’

Sophie Cooke

Part dance, part physical theatre, part circus, Tabu is hard to define. The show takes a single emotion – fear – as its starting point, and then stands this on its head, sometimes literally. The world-class acrobats of No Fit State circus are of course well-equipped to illustrate the power of physical fear. Watching them from below as they somersault through the air on the flying trapeze in the upper reaches of the big top, it is impossible not to hold your breath each time they reach out into thin air, trusting to find their partner’s hand. But the real power of the show comes from the way that physical fear – and physical trust – as exemplified by the acrobats, become symbols for sexual and emotional fear and trust. In large part, this is due to writer/director Firenza Guidi’s creative process. Rather than formulating a show with characters which the cast then impersonate, Guidi adopts a collaborative process in which she works together with the cast on the creation of their character and script. Each character is built around the individual’s own idea of their circus persona. Each character helps to write his or her own words. When a voice plays over Tania Chamorro on the high-wire, it is the voice of Chamorro herself, speaking her own fears while her body explores and transcends them. This gives the performance an integrity and a level of emotional honesty that is rare to witness. Yes, the show is full of virtuoso technical turns, be it on the tightwire, the Chinese pole, the strops or the trapeze – not to mention Adie Delaney’s flaming hula hoops; yes, the show is aesthetically beautiful, with billowing grey satin dresses, trilbies and muscles high in the misting spotlights, bare feet and strapping on the cables as chalk dust floats down around them; yes, the score is cracking, with its lilting accordion and saxophones, its aching double bass; but it is the sheer humanity of Tabu that makes the greatest impression. ‘What is fear?’ asks one of the performers. ‘It is the very thing that makes me feel alive.’

Venue 155: The Big Top, Shrub Place, Leith Walk, Edinburgh until 30th August.

Sophie Cooke’s novels, The Glass House and Under the Mountain, are published by Random House.

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