FLOWN at the Oxford Playhouse

The first thing to say about this show is that the company involved is called Pirates of the Carabina. I love this play on words – it made me smile and anticipated the clever, humorous feeling the show exudes. We enter the auditorium to an open, somewhat chaotic stage. A sound check is taking place (‘I’m checking the microphone’ sung in a melodic, hypnotic voice over and over again) and various items are being loaded onto the stage. Performers and audience are chatting. It’s a friendly, informal atmosphere. There is no them and us. They have invited us in and we go willingly.

Jade Dunbar ‘introduces’ the show by giving the performers their notes. Jade is the new style circus ringmaster – definitely in charge but in a very low key, visible stage manager way. She wanders about the stage in black checking ropes are secure, moving props, helping fly performers. The flying is achieved by human counter-weighting – the art of viewing this happen is almost as amazing as the aerial performances themselves. And these performers are multi talented. Ellis Grover tells us about how he came to be a high wire walker, whilst high wire walking, then the next time we see him he is playing the drum kit as part of the band. Most of the performers share their stories with us. The show is constantly evolving. When a new performer joins the company they bring their own story and skills to it.

Like Gifford’s Circus, the (original) music behind the acts is hugely important and brings a special atmosphere and sensitivity to each act. Everything from heavy rock to a haunting folk song of the sea is performed to great effect. The main singer and keyboard player, Tia Kalmaru is a Welsh/Estonian (what a marvellous combination). When the show tours to Wales, I was informed that some of the songs will be sung in Welsh. This company are really thinking about the individual skills of their artists and how they can make their show as accessible as possible.

The show is full of spectacular aerial scenes but also simple beautiful moments like when Shaena Brandel dusts the rosin off her hands, creating a magical cloud of dust lit against the dark. There were many of these. The climax of the show is wonderful but bittersweet because you never want it to end. This is not just an aerial performance circus- it is much, much more than that. And keep your eyes peeled for a very tiny horse which almost steals the show!   ★★★★★    Karin André     15th September 2017