Québécois circus company Flip Fabrique return to the Southbank after last year’s presentation of Catch Me (Attrape Moi) with Underbelly’s first main space headliner of the summer, Transit. A thrilling mix of acrobatic disciplines (hand-balance, tumbling, ensemble jumping rope choreography and the Canadian company’s signature trampoline finale) take centre-stage here, in an irrepressibly entertaining, cheeky and self-referential hour that explores the realities of touring a circus show around the world.
Exploring the highs and lows of troupe life is a smart conceit (dare I say, springboard) for jaw-dropping acro. Stacks become visual metaphors for the realities and restrictions of living ‘on top of each other’ (literally, half the time). And as well as constituting a suitably death-defying launchpad once the trampoline is wheeled out, set designer Ariane Sauvé’s crates form a striking backdrop for the pressures and burdens of living out of them to unfold.
For me, the ‘fun factor’ of Transit comes from how easy and appealing it is to imagine that whole sequences were actually devised in airports: products of mindless and creative ways the company amuse themselves during ‘dead time’ waiting for connections and delays whilst touring a different show. You smile at the thought of the diablos for instance (an absolutely showstopping routine, it’s difficult to ignore that Jeremie Arsenault is the stand-out showman of the company) blowing the minds of jetlagged travellers at departure gates, and the juxtaposition of these super-humans participating in the mundane (eg. having to sit at airport gates for hours on end), but filling that time with antics that push such inconveniences into the world of spectacle and ‘the impossible’ is a brilliant one.
Feelings of displacement – and the loneliness experienced when you’re thousands of miles from your loved ones – get an effective look-in, in particular during a well-constructed (if slightly short-lived) straps routine by Pierre Riviere. Flip Fabrique’s overarching tone, though, is one of relentless and infectious joviality – and that seems entirely right for its Rekoderlig-drinking audience. The six-strong troupe are clearly and necessarily close, and the importance of camaraderie whilst in ‘transit’ together (and how that camaraderie ties in with the trust inherent in the onstage stunts being executed seamlessly) prevails as the thread linking one sequence of physical prowess to the next.
I first had the pleasure of watching Transit in its 2017 Edinburgh carnation (at Assembly’s premier headline venue on the Mound) – when the company, if my memory serves me correctly, was afforded about 7000% more space stage. Perhaps it’s the luxury of comparison, but I couldn’t help but feel the show does suffer a little from the limitations of Underbelly’s tent.
Momentum during its London press night was unfortunately also rather laden, due to one-too-many errors for comfort. Perhaps it was nerves, if not a slight tiredness I sensed amongst the company (I did wonder if they actually had just flown in and the impact of transit really had taken hold of their bodies!). Either way, there was a perceptible sense during the curtain call that the troupe weren’t entirely happy with how the night had unravelled – but nevertheless, and with the advantage of seeing a unhindered version in 2017, I can absolutely testify to the fact that on a good day, each company member’s proficiency at an astonishing array of circus skills is spellbindingly impressive.
In sum, Flip Fabrique’s Transit is a winning combination of (on a better day) world-class acrobatic prowess and a smart, comprehensible conceit tying sequences together. For circus addicts and those who train in any of the disciplines it showcases, the show’s an infectious celebration of esprit de corps – and for the more casual audience member, both the performers’ aptitudes and the creativity of the devising team will utterly delight.