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This Is Cabaret: Circusfest 2014 Review – Strike!

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Kafka meets Office Space in Strike!, a contemporary circus performance based in a bureaucratic hell of cardboard and clocking in. Whilst at times boxed in by its own grand metaphors of a clockwork office, the second half in particular finally unpacks the hypnotic performances to match up to the demands of director Keziah Serreau’s vision, and take us significantly deeper into her claustrophobic world of compulsive horror.

The five performers that make up the pencil pushers and busybodies of this Brazil-inspired departmental dystopia each take it in turns to be prodded about, tripped up and sometimes in the case of the quite frankly impossibly nimble Olivia Quayle, even thrown around by their colleagues. There’s a sense of constant and claustrophobic struggle with the cast all fighting each other for the upper hand in this small space within Jacksons Lane. Designer Raymon Sarti has created an set that feels constantly on the edge of being invaded, engulfed as it is by multitudes of stacked cardboard boxes that tower menacingly overhead. From overhead comes a continuous flow of the berating shrill sounds of the office mixed alongside a taped voiceover piece that cunningly changes ever so slightly each time we hear it.

As for the props on stage, they mainly consist of a metal desk with a sliding wood panel and a metal chair. These are transformed cleverly into various structures, from an elevator to an aerial cage, with a few simple flips and a little imagination. They’re a great asset to the mise en scène of the performance, which as a whole feels like the strongest element of Strike, but also annoyingly the reason why it occasionally fails to quite hit its mark. Too concerned with getting across the idea of a frantic hive of robotic worker drones, the more theatrical side of the piece can feel a little blunt in its execution.

Once the initial concept is presented, Strike goes up a gear in the second half with the performers playing with our expectations and making more use of their physical circus skills for example on the slack rope and aerial strap that come into play. Without these elements, the first half relies too much on narrative, a problem as there isn’t really any obvious story strand, just little vignettes of power struggles and compliance. These are intriguing on their own, but when brought together not achieving a recognisable whole. Are these scenes all taking place within the same hellish organisation, or is this what life is like for everyone everywhere in this nightmarish land now?

When eventually more acrobatic touches are brought into play in the second half, everything becomes instantly more engaging; for example, the use of the desk as an aerial structure that the group slide and swing into and over a personal highlight. Indeed, as Serreau’s carefully structured world begins to topple, Strike also starts to feel much more innovative – reminding us all that a little chaos isn’t such a bad thing, at the end of the day.

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