Taking over from SOAP as Underbelly Southbank’s second Spiegeltent headliner of the summer, Circa’s Peepshow is regrettably culpable of the same sins: imaginative ideas seem oddly infrequent, sequences often feel underehearsed and intended effect is somewhat incoherent. An uncharacteristically imprecise offering from a usually reliable company.
Peepshow‘s 7-strong company appear to channel Hamilton at the beginning of Underbelly Southbank’s next Spiegeltent headliner, donning Edwardian ruffles whilst pulsing to a techno cover of Eurythmics. It’s a self-assured opening number from Australian company Circa – with a sensible combo of rigour, swagger and campness. You think you know what you’re ‘in for’, and you’re ready to lap it up.
As quickly as the acrobats throw the ruffles off though, the show’s intended identity becomes somewhat incoherent. A string of solo acts are ‘fine’, but lack the imagination, innovation or distinct USP that’d elevate them to the standard we’ve become accustomed to expect from Circa. More than one moment makes you question whether the company took the show’s title too literally: I get that we’re being treated to ‘glimpses’ of human activity, that we (as voyeurs) are being ‘teased’ and ‘tempted’, but events really do feel too transitory at times. The corde lisse act ends very prematurely, for instance; you’re expecting at least one enormous crowd-pleasing slip drop but nothing of the sort materialises. Similarly, a section involving the performers becoming interconnected by white ribbon becomes extremely bizarre when it doesn’t really go anywhere. The paper rips, the performers run off, a next act starts. It feels a tad ill-advised.
Perhaps the victim of an identity crisis, the creatives don’t seem entirely in agreement about how they want to pitch Peepshow. The majority of the Underbelly audience seem understandably game for an erotic and/or campy celebration of the history of vaudeville – but it doesn’t really deliver on that front: there’s not enough light-hearted audience engagement, recognisable songs to clap along to, choreographed moments of light relief or comedy. Equally, if it’s going for something darker and more disturbing (as the choreographed ‘fits’, particularly experienced by the female performers, would suggest), it never fully commits to it – and any resolution or comment seems to get lost. I would hazard a guess the word ‘consent’ was batted around in the rehearsal room, but I didn’t feel I was really given enough to understand the company’s perspective. Are we celebrating titillation or critiquing it – no one really seems to know?
So for me, an unusual ‘miss’ for Circa. Peepshow lacks the precision of Humans, the playfulness of Beyond and the pathos of Il Ritorno. If we drew a Venn diagram of those three categories, perhaps it’s the creative intention for Peepshow to sit somewhere in the middle. I think I’d have preferred it to just commit to one.