Review: Circa's Peepshow (Underbelly, London)
The Australian circus company bring their newest show to London
Australian company Circa dominate the international contemporary circus scene like the Australian test team dominated international cricket throughout the late nineties and early noughties. That is, when it comes to circus, they're pretty damn tough to beat. They've conquered all on these shores before, with Opus in 2014, Close Up in 2015, The Return in 2016 and Humans last year, consistently exploring the boundaries of the body, both physically and dramatically.
A shame, then, that their latest show – Peepshow, currently at the Underbelly Festival on the Southbank, before the troupe head up to Edinburgh in August – is a bit something and nothing. Director Yaron Lifschitz's show is technically tight – you'd expect that from one of the world's leading practitioners – but it lacks sufficient context. It's got muscle galore, but no real heart.
Peepshow, as the title suggests, trades on voyeurism (it's not a circus adaptation of the Channel 4 sitcom, although wouldn't that be great). So we get duskily shifting sex-shop lighting (all red and blue haze). We get a shiny, silver, strip curtain. We get long, red velvet gloves whisking clothes away to reveal sequined hot pants underneath. We get ball gags becoming juggling balls. We get plenty of sexy looks and smouldering stares.
Circus has always been a bit titillating. Peepshow makes no secret of that. It's got a decadent, late-night cabaret thing going on. There aren't any nipple-tassles, but they're not far away. And, to be honest, the whole thing starts to feel a wee bit pervy. A teensy bit cheap. Naughty, and not in a good way.
Plus, seediness aside, it's just not enough to sustain over an hour of circus. It's paper-thin and puddle-deep. Shows like this either need an iron idea driving them, or they need to up the stakes with staggeringly beautiful, death-defying act after staggeringly beautiful, death-defying act. Without those, circus gets a bit, well, a bit boring. And Peepshow doesn't have either.
Which isn't to say the individual acts themselves aren't pretty impressive. The troupe are forever clambering over one another, lifting each other up on their shoulders, flinging each other around like Colombian footballers defending a corner. Scott Grove has the torso of a Greek God, Luke Thomas can juggle slickly using all his limbs, and Jessica Connell is very, very good at hula-hooping (no, really good).
There's a banging soundtrack, too, including two stylish covers of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams", one jazzed up and juicy, the other choral and contemplative. And hats off to Jason Organ's lighting design, a virtuoso display of swivelling colours and spiderwebbed spots. There's lots to admire about Peepshow, in truth. There's just not much to love.