Peepshow, Underbelly Southbank

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Transforming Underbelly’s Spiegeltent into a dark, playful nightclub, Circa’s European premiere of Peepshow is a mesmerising hour of movement, theatre and circus.

It’s heavily dance-based, set to a fantastic soundtrack of original music alongside covers of familiar tracks, including two different versions of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ bookending the performance.

The concept is not supposed to be a classic peepshow of sexual titillation, although there’s a bit of that too. It is about seeing and being seen, according to director Yaron Lifschitz in the programme notes. The audience is very much the eighth member of the troupe, almost literally, thanks to some amusing if slightly unconvincing audience participation at one point in the show.

But this theme doesn’t become too literal or overbearing, in fact it’s almost irrelevant. Rather, it provides an excuse to stage some classic circus skills in an artistic, contemporary framework. There is clowning, in amusing moments such as two performers throwing an invisible ball into the audience and encouraging it to be thrown back, some impressive juggling by David Trappes and a stunning trapeze solo by Jarred Dewey.

The troupe works incredibly tightly as a team – and they have to, considering the terrifying stunts performed. None is the ‘star’, and every member does a bit of everything, whether it’s tumbling, hula hooping, contortionism or balancing.

But if you had to pick a standout, Dewey shines in his solo, and indeed throughout, his seemingly elastic body bending and twisting in ways that make the audience audibly gasp on several occasions. Even in group numbers, it’s hard to take your eyes off him, so magnetic is his presence.

Happily, in the acrobatic sections, the women aren’t just there to be flung around – Rowan Heydon-White, replacing Luke Thomas, shows she has upper-body strength to rival any old-school circus strongman, while Jessica Connell’s hula hoop skills and El Bartilomo’s versatility on the aerial rope are striking.

There are moments when the ‘peepshow’ does lose some of its lofty artistic credentials. Circus is undeniably sexy – all those bodies writhing and moving in literally incredible ways – but there are some moments of Peepshow which seem unnecessarily sexualised. There’s not really any need for a woman to take off her bra at one point, for example, even if it does lead to a nice stunt payoff at the end, and it does slightly undermine Lifschitz’s statement of intent.

Overall, though, Peepshow is a thoroughly entertaining, often spectacular piece, just subversive enough and featuring a truly impressive cast of performers, who just leave you just enough time at the end to pick your jaw up off the floor on your way out.

Peepshow runs through 18 August.

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