Launching the Carte Blanche contemporary circus season at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Petit Mal present an extraordinary spin on traditional circus skills in a darkly humorous, wildly energetic and complex show.

Set on a dark stage, littered with old tyres and discarded planks, you are plunged into an underworld of brooding, self absorbed, masculinity, with three friends “hanging out” sometimes playful and competitive, sometimes menacing and confrontational. The debris around them is used variously as weapons and the most ingenious props in their breathtaking acrobatic displays.

Finnish circus sensation Race Horse Company’s trio of performers; Rauli Kosonen, Kalle Lehto and Petri Tuominen, are clearly experts in their field. Kosonen’s wild, relentless trampolining is truly exhilarating. Lehto, a former Finnish break-dancing champion, uses his skills in a number of routines, while Tuominen’s work on the Chinese pole raises gasps from the audience!

Throughout there are little bursts of wild, uncontrolled activity, including some inspired work with tyres, a suspended cage, and trapeze, interplayed with lengthy periods of slower movement and dance. For me though, the mood is a little too bleak, and the occasional suggestion of violence jarring and unnecessary, in what is otherwise reasonable family entertainment. That said, much of the action has a ‘cartoon-like’ feel, and the audience at Lighthouse - a high percentage of who were children (over 7 years) - were enthralled by the spectacle. If the use of hip-hop, break-dancing and urban culture introduces circus art, and more widely, live performance to this new audience, then this can only be commended.

Petit Mal was chosen as a finalist in the European Jeunes Talents Cirque scheme 2010, and based on this electrically charged and extraordinary performance, it is easy to see why. A challenging but awe-inspiring spectacle.