A recent performance degree left me, admittedly, with a disposition towards seeing anything that boasts an imaginative set and experimental approach. So I was immediately taken by the image of Du Goudron et des Plumes, a “darkly thrilling, inventive and exhilarating circus performance”. I needed no more convincing.
And there it was: the platform, gloriously lit, relentlessly moving, where all the action took place – on, under, around, swinging from side to side, tipping precariously at an angle. Cunningly compiled, this intriguing/uncertain world introduced us to five protagonists whose very existence was unexplained… Are they survivors of a shipwreck you ask yourself? Strangers forced together, estranged and exiled from the rest of humanity maybe? Whatever their reason for being, there is no doubt though that your mind follows them out to sea, with their emotions as stormy as the phantasmal waves the ship rides upon.
Over an introductory series of acrobatics, tumbling, wire-walking and a clever double act (where one actor standing on the platform is mirrored by his upside-down equivalent clinging onto the bars beneath him by his toes), you understand that though relationships are evidently fraught, the development of friendship and trust are necessary in achieving stability and coherence out of the escalating chaos.
Physically outstanding and engrossing to witness – episodes of drama, comedy, danger and moments of sheer beauty are skilfully combined with the (unusual and ingenious) set, lighting and music. The tension reaches breaking point as a graceful series of shadow puppetry turns sour, an ugly transformation from a soft sense of confusing distortion (playing with size and perspective) to a prolonged act of violent destructive aggression (the literal tearing down of the delicate paper screen).
As an experience, you find yourself drifting between the lull of following these agile bodies magically at ease as they maneuver within this topsy-turvy world, to levels of uncomfort at watching their awkward social interactions. The feeling of unease continues to build until the tempestuous sea reaches an explosive peak of anger destroying the set before your eyes.
A production by Mathurin Bolze (also one of the performers), he is one of today’s most original and brilliant young circus creators who in the past has worked with the infamous Archaos contemporary circus group (amongst many others) and was awarded France’s prestigious ‘Prix du Cirque’ in 2009.
Text by Carmen Ho