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Review: Shift (Spiegeltent, Norwich)

Barely Methodical Troupe return with a new show to headline the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
© Chris Nash

After backflipping onto the scene a few years ago with their hit first show Bromance, young Brit circus company Barely Methodical Troupe have been around the world and then some, and are now back this year as a headline act at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival with Shift.

It's an interesting choice to headline a festival with: there's no dry ice, flashy lights or pumping music. The costumes don't sparkle or jangle and there's no arch meta-circus patter. But all that glisters is not gold and that phrase couldn't be more true than when using it to describe this piece. It's low-key and lo-fi, yes, but daring, beautiful, breathtaking and funny too.

In the festival's Spiegeltent, Shift begins with four members of BMT and some big blue rubber bands – ever had to use a physio stretch band? Think that but huge. There's taut skits and sketches played out using these human-sized elastic bands, where the performers are bounced around a bit, almost falling into the audience, but being caught just as a collective gasp goes up.

What BMT always seem to do well is combine clowning with cartwheels and though it takes a little while for them to warm up, there are natural, subtle comedy elements to this show. 'Ouch' says Louis Gift quietly as Charlie Wheeller stands on his head, 'Ooop!' exclaims Esmeralda Nikolajeff as she almost tips off the stage. The quartet use simple laughs throughout, relying carefully on surprise and bringing a touch of silliness to their physical work.

© Chris Nash

But the ensemble aren't just in it to make us chuckle, they are absolutely out to make our eyes widen, and they succeed in that. Whether it's a complex, mesmerising vignette from Wheeller on the cyr wheel, or Elihu Vazquez's astonishing breakdancing floor work where he flips out as if possessed, or Nikolajeff's back flips from one performer's shoulders to the next – there is pure magic in the simplicity of Shift's acrobatics.

Director Melissa Ellberger knows when to level things out a little, and she deals with the intense duets very well, especially between Nikolajeff and the towering Gift where their circus pas de deux is like a deep breath of fresh air, all played out to soulful Nick Drake with the background of Elliot Griggs' emotive lighting.

It is circus pared back and stripped down but still with a hugely satisfying level of wow factor.

Shift runs at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival until 27 May.