Lexicon (The Roundhouse, Camden)

Lexicon (The Roundhouse, Camden, until January 18th)


Circus skills with a mischievous edge delight and excite with the magical Lexicon, the latest offering from NoFit State Circus at the Roundhouse in Camden.

From an opening featuring badly behaved pupils in a classroom (complete with flying desks and a fierce tightrope walking teacher) the subject matter of this NoFit State Circus show is clear: this is all about presenting the wonderful basics of circus art then anarchically expanding the vocabulary of the form to create something both contemporary and forward-looking.

From the moment you arrive at the Roundhouse – a perfect venue for this show as the auditorium looks for all the world like a Big Top – you are involved with the action. Musicians play around the foyers, quick tricks are performed as you take your seats and you may find the person seated next to you is suddenly whisked up on wires to join in the acrobatic feats.

NoFit State last appeared at the Roundhouse back in 2012-13 with Bianco and company and venue are well-matched: the Roundhouse has a strong tradition of presenting circus and championing the contemporary circus as an artform and creative pathway for young talent.

Lexicon is a maelstrom of nailbiting energy and endurance – at times there is almost too much going on in the ring as by watching one band of performers you miss several more. But this non-stop approach adds to the breathtaking whole as auteur/director Firenza Guidi and the committed company deliberately throw all they can at the audience, challenging them not to have their breath taken away in bursts of rebellion.

It is pointless going along trying to uncover metaphors or try to trace a well-devised plot: this is a show that highlights talent, energy and fun without strings.

This is a mind-blowing collection of traditional circus skills taken beyond normal boundaries, unruly and unorthodox, all delighting in the art of misbehaving. At the outset we are told to crave words and learn truth but the language in this dictionary is agility and unlimited energy where actions speak louder than words and expectations are constantly defied.

There’s geekiness as a bullied “pupil” performs increasingly dextrous unicycling exploits: Sam Goodburn becomes an audience favourite as he changes clothes on the cycle, gives a towering performance on a tall cycle and finally rides along a line of upturned wine glasses.

There’s clownish laughter provided by the likes of Luke Hallgarten who performs some daring fire juggling though keeps setting himself alight, Luca Morrocchi showing off pure physical fitness on the Chinese pole bringing an 800-year-old art form bang up to date and a cheeky kilted Davide Salodini on a walking globe.

And there’s the seductive charm of Lyndall Merry on the swinging trapeze, a flying showman flaunting sex appeal alongside mind-boggling deftness.

The unconventional costumes (a chic and cheeky collection by Rhiannon Matthews) add to the sense of the traditional being turned on its head, a cavalcade of carnival steam punk and the design (Nic Von Der Borch and Saz Moir) blends the old and the new, giving old-fashioned traditional rigging the appearance  of something from a sci-fi movie.

Equally impressive is the live music: many of the performers dart from circus art toe singing or playing instruments and David Murray’s cross-cultural compositions are worthy of a standalone live concert performance.

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the ever-present riggers:  there is wizardry in the way they provide the balances and counterweights to the incredible aerial stunts, perpetual motion which is as eye-catching as the acts themselves.

True, some of the acts seem to slow down the relentless energy, but so much is fresh and vibrant that something new is never far behind and all the scene changes (many involving the transportation of hefty props and machinery) are covered well by activity somewhere else on stage or in the auditorium.

Lexicon is heartfelt, humorous and high-energy from start to finish. It may even have the power to persuade a whole new generation that their ambition is to run away and join the circus. At the very least it is proof that one of the most traditional forms of theatre and art is alive and kicking with a dazzling insurgence.

David Guest

Images: The Other Richard/David Levene

A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls