Controlled Falling Project is not a
relaxing theatre experience, but would you expect one when you are inside a
giant, inflatable, upside-down, purple, cow-shaped tent on the Southbank?
The tiny stage inside the cow’s belly is an equally unlikely
setting for such a dazzling display of acrobatics. A 1930s laboratory, littered
with dusty paraphernalia: a blackboard, wheels, dials, a drum kit and a huge
arching lamp attached to a tricycle. Smoke wafts delicately across the stage,
before the sudden beginning of an intense hour of acrobatics from this troupe
of human dominoes who somersault, back-flip, fling and catch each other with
vital accuracy. I was worried sick throughout.
Elements of old-school circus, gymnastics and mime are
balanced together to form a loose storyline: spring-boarding from the theories
of physics, three pupils become the props in a demonstration of various
geometrical principles and an investigation into the concept of controlled
falling. This is a human laboratory, and any inaccuracy could be fatal. They
are guided by their eccentric bowtie-clad, drumming professor (David Joseph),
who pushes them and their bodies further and further, and rewards them with
emphatic ticks on the blackboard. Personally, I would hope for more than just a
chalked tick, had I performed a perfectly executed one-handed handstand on top
of a precarious mountain of rickety chairs.
But these guys are not to be put off. Throughout the show,
they find increasingly unsteady looking props to balance on, flip onto and leap
from, tumbling and twisting continually with implausible accuracy. One pupil
becomes the spokes in an enormous steel hoop that twirls around the stage: a
human cartwheel. All three are involved in spectacular sequence on a giant
seesaw. There’s a mildly humorous current of slapstick tomfoolery between these
young pupils, which is in blunt contrast to their exceptionally measured and
poised strength. The balance of both astounding power and unexpected grace is
what makes this a mesmerising show.
And yet, and yet…. whilst this format fits their purpose
well, you feel the climax looming like an inevitability from the first stunt,
and when it comes, you somehow wish they had made more of it.