Brisbane Festival

16 September 2015

There is a raw, unpolished edge to Pirates of the Carabina’s soaring circus, Flown.

That isn’t to say there’s an ­amateur feel to the production, more one of stumbling in on a circus jam session where a motley cast of characters pluck from their repertoire of tricks for the amusement of themselves and their mates.

Right from the outset, Flown ­affects an air of casual entertainment. The grungy set design lays the production bare with scaffolding, counterweights and anchors not just clearly visible but later proving an integral part of the entertainment.

The 10-member cast, costumed in an edgy interpretation of pirate attire, shuffles on to stage in no ­apparent order, testing harnesses, tinkering with instruments and limbering up.

Stage manager Jade Dunbar fronts the microphone to deliver some lighthearted notes to the cast before handing it to co-creator Barnaby “Barnz” Munn for the first of many monologues.

Each performer speaks directly to the audience at some point but many spiels fall flat as performers, some clearly unaccustomed to ­public speaking, stumble and mumble their way through lines and struggle to be heard over the music.

This is the one weak spot in an otherwise riveting 80-minute show.

In a Brisbane Festival program packed with adults-only and weighty circus – think Strut & Fret’s Fear & Delight and Circa’s Il Ritorno – Flown appeals to all ages without directly pandering to children.

Its key point of difference is the prominence afforded to the show’s riggers and technicians.

Usually clothed in black and ­relegated to a silent, behind-the-scenes presence, the Pirates of the Carabina crew are as much a part of the show as the aerialists.

Wearing harnesses and wielding sandbags, carabiners, ropes and ­pulleys, they share the stage and the spotlight with trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, dancers and musicians.

At times, watching them raise, lower, anchor and control a performer is as mesmerising as the performer themselves.

One of the standout acts is dancer-turned-aerialist Laura Moy’s ­flying pole routine.

The pint-sized acrobat spins, twirls and climbs a vertical pole that, under Munn’s control, rotates and “flies”.

He never takes his eyes of Moy, or any of the other performers, as he gracefully scales and ­descends the stage’s scaffolding, countering Moy’s supple routine. The result is akin to a beautiful ballet.

Also executing a nimble pas de deux are Craig Turner and Jack Rees who take a simple floor lamp for a spin high above the stage.

While there are moments of breathtaking beauty, Flown is not without comedic highlights. Rees generates the lion’s share of laughs as a he bumbles his way through a series of staged near-misses and pratfalls, rides a miniature horse-drawn chariot and delights as a roller skate-wearing, ukulele player.

Flown ticks all the boxes of ­conventional circus – hoops, trapeze, tightrope, clowning and ­balancing – adds contemporary elements of parkour and breakdancing then channels Irish pubs, New ­Orleans honky tonks and underground punk clubs in its staging.

© 2015 Belinda Seeney

Brisbane

14 September 2015

We all wanted to run away with the Circus, but these are the kids who ran away with the circus and then ran away again to join the Pirates of the Carabina, a special bunch from the UK, positioning themselves far away from the establishment, and bringing a new circus sub-culture to Oz. Can we keep them???

FLOWN is an entirely new take on an eternally popular, reinvigorated form, which celebrates high above our heads, human daring and awe-inspiring achievement. The only slightly irreverent stuff that comes close is Circa (their youth performances particularly) and Chelsea McGuffin’s Company 2.

FLOWN is unique in terms of its approach to the traditional conventions, its chaotic energy, and its hipster vibe juxtaposed against surprising elegance.

Where other companies have tried and failed to pull off something so expertly nonchalant, these piratical acrobats proudly retain a sense of themselves as individuals as well as coming together as a tight-knit rebel band, literally, of multi-talented performers who know their strengths and play to them. We witness behind-the-scenes catastrophe and terrific comedy in the on-stage shenanigans, and these elements have the audience in stitches as well as gasping in horror/mock horror – was something supposed to fall or not?!

The circus acts form the basis of a loose narrative: the company makes a concerted effort to put on a show, despite frequent disaster. Monologues delivered by cast members break up the acts by putting voice to random thoughts and memories about the circus. (The whole premise of talking to us has already been established by a woman dressed in theatre blacks, who offers in the tradition of Hamlet to the Players in Act 3 Scene 2, her “Director’s Notes” before the show starts).

It’s an exercise in neatly conceived contrast. The delight inspired by a miniature horse drawn chariot, which appears for no particular reason, plays sharply against the surreal beauty of a mischievous flying floor lamp, or a length of white fabric amassed before a robust tissu act is performed. For some reason the cascading tissu elicits an emotional response that catches me off guard. Is it the music? The imagery? This is not the only moment of beauty to creep up and take me by surprise…

Shaena Brandel’s counterweighted aerial hoop duet with Barnz Munn, the most extraordinarily captivating aerial rigger ever, amazes, not least because it involves an ironing board, which has previously been played and ironed upon. She makes me think of Essie Davis as Miss Fisher and Lizzie Moore as herself, her loveliness made all the more alluring in the crescent of her swinging, spinning, silvery full moon and a sweet moment stolen by Munn.

A high wire act featuring the too-cool-for-school Ellis Grover showcases not only his perfect balance but also his knack for casually playing harmonica and chatting away about life-changing childhood experiences from a great height. He quips, “This is as hard as it looks!” Not only that, but he’s the drummer in the band! A class act, this guy proves that playing around and swinging on chairs in the classroom can pay off!

Tia Kalmaru seduces and stuns old-school Tori (faery) Amos / Jesca Hoopstyle, with her vocal and instrumental versatility, fitting in and standing out like a pin-up storyteller rock star. Her monologue is delivered in her native Welsh – pure magic – and she too flies for the finale, looking completely at home playing electric guitar mid-air.

The entire show feels like it was created at Woodford Folk Festival over several years, in between Circadia gigs, Pineapple Bar drinks and post-show recovery brekky antics on the Village Green just for fun and then, one day, magically, funding allowed it to fly free and travel the world! (#everyartistsdream)!

The soundtrack is sensational – you can purchase the CD and relive the experience at home. Or, if you miss it, imagine it and wish you’d seen it for yourself. But it’s not too late, you can still catch it…this festival run won’t finish until Saturday 25!

FLOWN is a joyous, momentous circus event. It will delight, surprise and inspire the whole family. If only I had time in my life to see it again…often.

© 2015 Xanthe Coward

Cardiff

29 May 2015

Beautiful chaos; two adjectives that are rarely, if not ever merged together in the same phrase to connote something positive.

In spite of the oxymoron, the chaotic elegance of the Pirate of the Carabina’s ‘Flown’ truly represented the chaotic splendour of circus. With personal anecdotes, tense, harmonic vocals and story-telling tight rope walkers, ‘Flown’ can merely be described as a celebration of the surreal yet wonderful world of circus.

Whilst being winners of the Total Theatre Awards for ‘Physical and Visual Theatre’ in the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe, it cannot be denied that the Pirates of the Carabina’s ten international Circus Artists, Riggers and Musicians were outstanding and created several jaw dropping, unforgettable moments, from plummeting mid- air to making extreme acrobatics look easy. With careful direction and supervision of director, James Williams, the Pirates of the Carabina’s dedication and utmost talent was truly reflected through their performance of ‘Flown’.

When considering typical circus, skills and tricks such as acrobatics, clowns and fire-eating, ‘Flown’ rejoices the unconventional forms of typical circus entertainment. Peculiar props such as ironing boards, irons and lamp shades were utilised in such an elegant way that presented how even the most simple house hold items can captivate the audience in a split second. Whilst dancing around a lamp does not on initial reflection sound ‘mesmerising’, the intrigue and talent embedded into the performance allowed the audience to see regular objects as being used for multi- purposes rather than what we typically use a lamp for, again celebrating the unconventional.

Other than successfully making me feel rather inadequate about my own musical ability, the band accompanying the performance created an atmospheric and tense setting for the performance to unravel. Credit must be given to the female lead vocalist whose mellow, folk-like voice allowed the audience to be captivated through the performance due to the creative live soundscape which was harmonically complimented by the choir.

Director James Williams successfully collaborated elements of physical theatre, dance, acrobatics and the weird (meaning a small toy horse carrying a fully grown man on a carriage across the stage) into a mesmerising and unique performance which led to the deserved standing ovation at the overwhelming climax of the show.

With only three performances of ‘Flown’ remaining in Cardiff, this jaw-dropping, mesmerising performance is indefinitely not one to be missed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

© 2015 George Caulton

Cardiff

21 July 2015

ART might be a better description of FLOWN, the touring circus show which landed in Bangor last week, than maybe, family fun or comedy.

But that should by no means be a barrier to anyone thinking of going to see the Pirates of the Carabina during their week-long stint on Beach Road.

Not one of the roughly 10 performers stood out as being less amazing than the rest. They were as athletic and acrobatic as they were musical and funny. The show is darker than you might expect, in mood and presentation.

Structured as a series of anecdotes told by each individual cast member, the show tells the story of how each came to join the circus. These anecdotes, told in deliberately droning voices, are usually interrupted by some staged calamity in the background – a step ladder tipping over with a loud crash – before the acrobatics get underway.

Other times, the anecdotes serve as an intro to the next segment; a tale about swinging on a chair at school explains how the storyteller became a talented tight-rope walker. It’s a great way to structure what is really just a string of unrelated performances.

The one Welsh-speaking cast member used her bilingualism to tell her particular anecdote to great effect, and made the show feel tailored for Bangor.

It’s easy to recommend Flown based on the acrobatics alone, but the excellent presentation, the surprises, the superb music and raw talent on display make it a must-see.

© 2015 Mike Williams

Brighton Festival

22 May 2014

“There has been a slight incident backstage,” we are told.

It is the first of many slight incidents, the hazards escalating and the laughs accumulating as the evening progresses. We are at a circus where everything can go wrong, and most things do. And never before has so much going wrong seemed so right.

Flown has just blown me away. There is a rawness and honesty to this performance that can scarce be encapsulated in prose, but I shall endeavour.

Circus is dangerous. We are told this repeatedly – the performers recount touching, funny, doubtless entirely true stories of injuries they and friends have sustained; the front two rows are under strictest instructions not to stand up for the duration (I am in row five – I should be safe, right?); the precariousness inherent in the very act of circus is made crystal clear at every turn. We also see the danger with our own eyes, everywhere about us, dangling from every carabina.

Circus is immediate. You are eyeball-to-eyeball with your designated entertainers for the evening – what is theirs is ours. (Wrong; I am not safe: early on, I and the young boy next to me get pushed quite hard by an actor making his way down the aisle behind, and the boy is briefly in need of consolation from his mother, but is pretty soon enjoying the show almost as much as me.)

Circus can be oh so tender at times, and oh so mesmerising: the flex of the human muscle as it stretches itself to its limit and the delicate interplay of bodies through space can evoke the gamut of emotion. Music can play a big part in this. The music here is exceptionally diverse – we’re served rock, blues, soul, ambient soundscapes, ditties and rhythms on accordion, saxophone, loop pedal, several guitars, and a rich sea of voices. The barrier between musician and circus performer is as permeable as that between actor and audience: at one stand-out point the entire ensemble of ten simply sits down and plays us a song, and before the evening is out even the rhythm section has flown.

When such a strong female clown stands so rootedly to the show’s centre, circus can also be extremely funny. Gloria is a riot. Her timing is superb, and her frowns a delight. This evening, she has certain sections of the audience so continually convulsed in laughter that everyone else laughs at the laughers, the laughers laugh back, ad infinitum, and Gloria can just stand back and let us do her work for her. Which of course redoubles the effect. Gloria also knows her tricks, very impressive tricks, and even better, she can clown them up a treat.

It is a harder task for circus to make sense, in the narrative way that theatre can make sense, and circus these days is on a steady path towards a closer affinity with theatre – circus is, you could say, on a quest for its sense. Flown, I am delighted to report, makes sense. The show has a beautifully conceived show-within-a-show structure, where we see the extraordinary acts but we also see the commotion that surrounds them – the backstage snogs, the technicians dangling from the rafters, the bitter recriminations and personal crises. Once again, we have a permeable barrier – on- and off-stage are one and the same.

Flown is a show of many circles. Circles are ever-present in the set design, and more circles are continually brought on and used for tricks. The word “circle” comes from the Latin word “circus”, meaning ring, so there is hardly a more apt shape for a circus show. Circuses used to be round themselves, and traditional circuses, of course, still are; increasingly, circuses are end-on, and inhabit squarer theatrical spaces. This company seems to recognise that at heart, circus is still all about the circle. The circle is, after all, the most inclusive of the shapes, symbolising unity and harmony. The cast of Flown are at one with us, baring their personal stories through the glorious convention of transitional monologues, making it plain that any one of us could, if we wanted, be up there doing what they are doing. For younger members of the audience, this is surely a wonderful inspirational message, rendered all the more tangible by the constant reminders of the downsides – the long hours, the difficulties of touring as a single parent, and, again, the danger.

I will often sit watching a piece of performance and begin asking myself questions – what’s going on exactly? What’s that thing up there for? Why have they selected that lighting state? Isn’t theatre a strange phenomenon, me down here and them up there? The very best type of performance – and Flown is the very best type of performance – flows so smoothly along on its well-oiled wheels that the questions just don’t need posing. We are along for the ride, simple as that, and we come away feeling incredibly uplifted, awed, and even a little educated.

The most striking aspect of the show is the sheer joy that the ensemble bring to the work they do. I overhear a cast member afterwards telling a friend the technical rehearsal lasted until 4:30, and they then had to cram in a dress rehearsal before the 7:30 show. The exhaustion they must have been subject to makes the light-hearted gleeful touch they each bring to the performance all the more extraordinary. Clearly, everyone on that stage adores the circus, adores performing before an audience, and adores their fellow performers. Add to the mix a truly top-notch set of skills, and ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we have ourselves a winner.

© 2014 John Hinton

Edinburgh Fringe

07 August 2013

Crying Out Loud’s two shows at the Fringe are gems; one a company piece, the other a solo for Jeanne Mordoj

The London-based production company Crying Out Loud is presenting a select set of shows at this year’s Fringe. Flown is the bigger of the two, an hour-long circus-theatre piece from a new group of international artistes dubbed Pirates of the Carabina. Staged in the giant upside-down purple cow that dominates Bristo Square, it’s on daily except Tuesdays for the rest of the festival.

Flown seems just about perfectly calibrated for what can be an awkward performing space. Slipping deftly between humour, sobriety, grace and up-close spectacle, and punctuated by jokes, brief monologues and live music, this company-devised piece pokes covertly sympathetic fun at disgruntlement, ineptitude and failure, via a series of faux mishaps that are delivered with immense skill and generosity of spirit.

I so liked being in the presence of the versatile, ten-strong cast that it seems unfair to single anyone out, but I must. The compact Laura Moy (trained in contemporary dance) does precise, emotionally exquisite things on the Chinese pole — traditionally a rather showy device in circus. A duet with Barny Wreyford, accompanied by Shaena Brandel’s folk song, says as much about a tender relationship as any scripted scene could. Moy’s solo on the pole after it’s been uprooted and suspended is simply gorgeous.

The Times

© 2013 Donald Hutera

Edinburgh Fringe

07 August 2013

One of the first things that hits you with this circus is perhaps unexpected; how tight and well-acted the script is. The short monologues between theatrical displays weave together comedy and tragedy, and show off the company’s dry wit. As the premise is an unprepared show, this gives ample room for comedy, with performers dangling from lighting rigs and having their pants pulled down; all executed with elegant and confident aerial skills. However, where the troupe really excel is with the show’s climax. Starting with a ‘circus-off’ and moving into complete choreographed chaos, performers fly, fling and swing into the audience, all whilst keeping perfect time. A completely jaw-dropping spectacle.

Three Weeks


© 2013 Lizzie Milton

Edinburgh

08 August 2013

All to the stage please! Cue entrances! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome our performers: a stroppy princess in a party frock who thinks she’s the star of the show, a Finnish acrobat who is missing the snow, a slim ginger-haired tightrope-walker who has fallen many times (fallen for a girl); a wide-eyed flying flapper who’s still ironing her dress, and a jaunty sailor-boy and girl up a mast.

Flown uses the popular theatre (in both senses of that phrase) device of a show within a show. The cast play a motley crew of characters – heightened versions of themselves or clownish alter egos – who are assembled on a ramshackle set (cue aerialist crashing down from a broken lighting rig) to put on a show. Things go right and things go wrong (mock-wrong that is). People tell jokes: ‘What’s a fly with no wings? A walk.’ People take a breather from spinning in a wheel or dangling from a rope to mouth little monologues of confession (although they don’t do that half as well as Montreal troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main, who have this breathy autobiographical-confessional trick down to a tee). There is much referencing, verbally and visually, to the nature of that beautiful dangerous thing that is the circus.

Often, there are two or more things going on at the same time, a kind of layering which reminds me a lot of No Fit State Circus but I suppose is as old as circus itself really – for example, a boy walks a highwire playing harmonica, whilst a couple spin in a cyr wheel, and the forever-ironing lady uses her board as a percussion instrument. There’s a lot of using things as percussion instruments – at another point the stage is set humming with a Stomp-like barrage of beating metal on metal.

Whilst there are many points of reference and comparisons with other contemporary circus shows in some of the dramaturgical decisions, Flown is never the less its own lovely, unique self. The spoilt princess is a fantastic character – arriving on stage in a cart pulled by a ludicrously small toy horse, performing a silks act in which she ends up tangled in the rigging, and playing electric guitar whilst flying harnessed in the air. Many of the other circus artists are also musicians – our ginger-haired tightrope walker turns out to be a pretty decent kit drummer – and there is also a live band, who find themselves drawn into the circus action. Or drawn up – there is nothing this company won’t have a go at harnessing and flying through the space.

Apart from the marvellous pouty princess – so rare to see brilliant clown and aerial going hand-in-hand – there is a wondrous Chinese pole act by sailor boy and girl. She in particular is amazing – so strong, so fluid. The choice of Irish folk song She Moved Through the Fair is a stroke of genius, a perfect match for the poignant choreography.

Flown was first commissioned by Glastonbury Festival for its Circus Big Top in 2011, and has subsequently been supported by production company Crying Out Loud. It’s a delightful show brimming with skilful, funny, and heart-warming performances; boasting an ingenious set full of mechanical curiosities; and a great integration of live music and physical action. And how good it is to see a new British circus company making their mark at the Edinburgh Fringe!

Total Theatre

© 2013 Dorothy Max Prior