Review: Lexicon (Hove Lawns, Brighton)

NoFit State’s newest show comes to the Brighton Festival after premiering at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme

©The Other Richard

NoFit State has become one of the foremost circus companies in the UK – their Bianco spending years wowing audiences of all varieties across the globe, while their tyre-swing Barricade brought a politically-charged aerial playground to the big top. They're back now with new piece Lexicon, which opened at the New Vic in Newcastle-Under-Lyme earlier this year before hopping down to the south coast for the Brighton Festival. And for the company, it's a chance to go back to school.

Staged in the round, Lexicon opens on a classroom. A rowdy group of pupils, whispering as their teacher passes by, slowly descend into mayhem and anarchy. Time passes before our eyes – playground hijinks become social taunting, school clothes are discarded, formalwear is donned, at one stage wedding dresses are revealed. It's a neat, slowly shifting framing device that shuffles from past to future, a gradual evolution of character and tone.

On top of this, the piece combines classic circus skill with inflections of intriguing innovation. As the pupils move away from their school roots and out into the wider world, experimentalism comes to the fore – two projectors create huge, 3D canvases while the aerial hoopist performs, and all manner of objects are hoisted into the air by a number of riggers. On a thematic level, the narratives become more intense and emotional, paper planes and classroom pranks are exchanged for heartache and isolation. There's a genuine sense that the work has a through-line, from the first sequence to the final.

What makes Lexicon so much fun is that it's made by a company that isn't afraid to inject a quirky sensibility into proceedings. The aerialist is sinking vodka, the fire juggler is constantly setting himself alight, while the unicyclist has to get dressed in a suit (while peddling. It's boggling.) Even a trio of cyr wheelers are utterly dysfunctional – these are performers unflinchingly committed to the idea of never taking themselves too seriously.

It's helped by some consistent talent from both the on-stage musicians and the circus performers – huge diabolo performances, foot juggling and whimsical slack rope walking hold our attention, while watching the ensemble create human towers while riding around on bicycles is a visual marvel. For a show running at over two hours, it's hard for every sequence to land (indeed, a fair few don't) and pacing does flag somewhat as the second act continues on. To see a company not only pushing themselves, but also the remits of mass-audience circus performance, is always worth a recommendation – they may be all in favour of bad behaviour, but it's hard to deny that Lexicon is class act.