When One Door Closes

Circa combines the focal female characters from various nineteenth and twentieth century dramatic texts associated with realism and naturalism and flips these works on their head to create an explosive and evocative circus performance. The work introduces the three women at the end of their stories, after a door has closed or a life has ended, after Nora, Hedda and Julie have left us. Their existence after their endings, however, is loaded with potential for just as much exploration as the original texts themselves are.

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As the show begins each woman is represented by the presence of a single female on the sleek black stage accompanied by a spoken introduction read from a piece of paper. While one male ensemble reads out the original description of each woman, the other exclaims “If you’re trapped in a dream of the other, you’re fucked!” These introductions set up each of the women’s mental, physical and emotional space simplistically, yet unleashed context and themes for each performer to then explore with their body for the duration of the show. These opening performances covered themes of oppression, control, anxiety, femininity, and sexuality. While Nora and Hedda was accompanied by integration of their play’s original text, Julie was joined by a male ensemble member to tell her story. Nora’s potentially liberating dance of escape from her jail-like home was overshadowed by a recording of sickening lines of dialogue from her oppressive husband. Stage directions of Hedda’s suicide were whispered along to sultry original music while Hedda outlined her own body with white ink not unlike a body outline at a crime scene. Julie, however, danced a smooth yet frantic dance with a male partner with movements that teetered on the edges of love, hatred, lust and disgust for the men in her life. Each work was different from the last, powerful and simultaneously empowering and disheartening to experience. 

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The work then broke away from its episodic structure to become a more fluid portrayal of character, themes and physical endurance. Without the introduction speeches each moment began to blend together in a smooth and satisfying overlap of acrobatics. Memorable moments include fast and furious hoop jumps, flips and tricks, a sensual yet playful exploration of lollies and flowers, and the chewing or consumption of a single sheet of white paper. More provocative moments, however, were Nora’s removal of half a dozen pairs of coloured panties, as if shedding different layers of herself, a male duo portraying a domineering dynamic between partners or lovers, and Nora’s repeated frantic fits, sometimes through a demented distortion of limbs, that physicalised all three of the females’ inner torture. Unfortunately, these moments were countered with a repetitive and overused lip synced performance from a male performer while the other ensemble members cleaned the stage of its confetti or food-related mess. This would have been excusable in its first instance, however when a slow and sad song about ‘love tearing us apart’ was conveyed through little more than a sweeping and scrubbing of the stage, these moments became a slump in an otherwise entertaining and evocative performance. If the songs had been halved and the performances from the remaining ensemble members been more captivating, perhaps the fact that the stage needed to be cleaned could have been hidden. A sweeping of the stage with Nora’s pink wig, however, couldn’t salvage the six minutes that was wasted in trying to pass off the clearing of the stage as a portrayal of domesticity. 

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The production utilised more recognisable and considerably traditional circus props, costumes and acrobatics. This was a welcome choice considering the show’s otherwise complex portrayals of character, themes and relationship dynamics through the body alone. With shiny clown-like wigs and outfits in themed colours of pink, orange, and red for the women, and shades of blue for the men, the costumes were simplistic yet eye-catching.  With velvet tops and glittery shorts the costumes played with texture as much as Circa explored the smoothness and grittiness of each theme, relationship or moment. With a trapeze that allowed acrobats to swing and reach out into the La Boite audience, and lifts, throws, and balances that resulted in gasps in awe, the circus element of the production continued the timeless wonder that is a circus performance. The lighting design and soundscape helped enhance each of these moments, with original music varying from playful to powerful, and lighting jumping from splendour to stark spotlights and sharp stretches of colour. 

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Circa’s adaptation of three traditional texts was a welcome change from the all too familiar choice to take a recognisable script and vamp up the words with an explosion of costume and set design that ices the language with a sickening aesthetic. Instead, Circa respects the works as their own, enters after their conclusion and strips back the stories to portray themes, emotions, characters and relationships through the body in a refreshing and dynamic way.

– Written by Rhumer Diball April 14 2016

WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES PRESENTED BY LA BOITE THEATRE COMPANY & CIRCA

LA BOÎTE: WED 06– SAT APR 23, 2016.

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