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KIN at the Peacock Theatre review: Beckett with a drop of Python, but make it circus

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 27/01/2022 Donald Hutera
London, UK. 26th Jan, 2022. Performers from circus company Barely Methodical Troupe perform daring physical acrobatic feats from their new show KIN in Lincoln Inn Fields. Originally premiered in 2016, KIN mixes the acrobatics of circus with the emotional © Alamy Live News. London, UK. 26th Jan, 2022. Performers from circus company Barely Methodical Troupe perform daring physical acrobatic feats from their new show KIN in Lincoln Inn Fields. Originally premiered in 2016, KIN mixes the acrobatics of circus with the emotional

Home-grown productions are grabbing the spotlight in this year’s edition of the London International Mime Festival, and that includes this knowing yet gnomic entertainment from Barely Methodical Troupe.

Founded in 2013 by three talented young blokes from the National Centre for Circus Arts, the company has since established itself as a leading exponent of a brand of British contemporary circus-theatre that can be both experimental and popular. For them, and others of their generation, such traditional circus trappings as trained animals and glittery, grand-scale spectacle are unnecessary and even undesirable. Instead they tend to offer up scripted text (confidently delivered), a modicum of characterisation (often derived at least in part from performers playing up aspects of their own personality or history) and, crucially, ideas usually put across with a healthy dose of humour. As for physical virtuosity, it’s an absolute must.

All of these elements are present in KIN, a show first seen in London in 2016 at the Roundhouse. The basic premise is intriguing: five limber people, each labelled with a random-seeming number, are in a blankly open space being put through some highly testing paces by an unpredictably autocratic woman (Nikki Rummer) stationed at a downstage desk which is equipped with red telephone and a cancellation buzzer. Is this an inspection, a competition, or maybe an audition? The answer is never clear. And is she truly in charge? That, too, remains ambiguous.


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So engaging and adept are the performers, however, that all the conceptual teasing around the themes of control, loss and sexual politics is more fun than frustrating. What the director Ben Duke (co-founder of the award-winning dance-theatre company Lost Dog) and his cast are serving up here is a juicy slice of existentialist hijinks, peppered with absurdist laughs and a sometimes dazzling kinetic daring. Think Beckett given a drop or two of Monty Python, then generously topped up with seemingly effortless, top-notch circus skills that are set, mostly, to a selectively-deployed retro-pop soundtrack.

It is no surprise, particularly given the show’s admirably light-hearted dramatic context, that for a brief spell a banana becomes the five competitors’ key, Pavlovian reward. But aside from this and other examples of funnybone-tickling, there is also plenty in the performance to satisfy thrill-seekers: acrobatic flips and spins, strong-armed balances and sudden drops, as well as a pretty liberal use of heads as steppingstones. But the corporeal highlight comes early thanks to an astonishingly varied and riveting routine on the Cyr wheel by Fiona Thornhill. She and Rummer are the only female performers in the cast. Interestingly, both exude more power, either individually or in tandem, than their male counterparts.

Peacock Theatre, to Saturday. The London International Mime Festival runs until February, mimelondon.com

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