30/09/2008 Hove Lawns

I never thought I would live to see a tightrope-walker, that most disciplined and elegant of entertainers, pause mid-performance to pull from her bra a tobacco pouch and some rizlas, calmly roll a cigarette and then proceed to jump backwards along the rope at an alarming rate with said ciggie held casually between her lips. But the consistently unconventional Tabu was full of such surprises.

For a start there were no seats. The audience instead followed the performance on foot as its many dream-like scenes unfolded around the giant domed tent. The wildly energetic cast ran, jumped, flipped and swung about us whilst talking, shouting and pulling faces at individual audience members.

Though this may sound like the worst nightmare imaginable to a circus-goer expecting a traditional show, being surrounded by and immersed in the scenes rather than just watching them from seats made for a wonderfully exciting and awe-inspiring experience.

Everywhere you looked you would find an unexpected little detail, such as a cheeky little character eating popcorn off the floor around your feet after a cinema scene had erupted into a full-scale popcorn war upon trampolines and trapezes, showering the audience with tasty debris.

However, despite the constantly impressive stunts and the imaginative scenes, the show as a whole felt lacking in coherent shape and story. Though the show’s program outlined a detailed vision of a deadened, subdued humanity being brought back to vibrant, daring life by the fearlessness and energy of a young girl named Amaranta, the circus itself failed to sufficiently convey this and, as a result, by the end of the night I found my attention waning a little.

It felt as if Tabu was caught in between being an exhibition of its cast’s skills and relating a narrative but ultimately coming up a little short on both accounts. The show certainly explored many interesting themes that I never would have expected a circus to deal with, such as the paralyzing influence of fear and the unknown, but stuck a little too rigidly to a pattern of circus tricks and in doing so suffocated the highly interesting ideas that the show touched on.

Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Tabu still offered a night of high-octane and original entertainment, some beautifully haunting scenes and a vibrant message of celebrating ‘life’s dirtiness and its embarrassingly fearful and irresistibly sensual side’, which is a lot more than you can normally expect from a circus.

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