Circus gets a radical rethink in this clowning show by Australian pioneers
This is not the big top of your childhood. Oh sure, the colourful lights form the shape of a circus tent, and there are absolutely two clowns onstage, but if you’re expecting wholesome – or, a little ribald and retroactively creepy but still family-friendly – clowning, It’s Not For Everyone is here to tell you that clowns are not what you remember them to be.
Australian circus company acrobat (Jo Lancaster and Simon Yates) traces the ageing process of physical performers from high-flyers to circus clowns and beyond (so far beyond that they are reclaimed by the dirt). High-concept and both intellectually and physically nimble, the show begins with bicycle stunts and descends into anarchy.
Is circus about seeking audience cheers and gasps? At first, that’s what Lancaster and Yates do, performing tricks on command; at one point, they even measure audience applause on a giant thermometer. But it’s really all a veneer, suggesting that nothing is ever what it appears on the surface. The backdrop peels away, the gags become more self-referential and bracingly honest, and suddenly we’re in the middle of surprisingly affecting performance art.
The show begins with an abundance of props, audio-sting-cued pedals and costumed layers, but all are stripped away as Lancaster and Yates interrogate audience gaze, gender stereotypes in physical performance, and the life-cycle of performers, performance art and performance expectations.
It’s Not For Everyone is a journey, and within a 65 minute running-time it feels like we’ve experienced a life cycle – every moment important, welcome, and, crucially, a stepping-stone towards the next. There is no wasted time onstage, and Lancaster and Yates are rigorous in their practice: every gag has a purpose.
There’s a refreshing archness to this work. Call it circus for an audience hungry for radical re-imagining, call it physical theatre using the framework of circus to explore bigger ideas, call it an abstract interrogation of the human facade, and all would be correct. The greatest pleasure you can have with this as an audience member is to accept its exploration without fear, allowing it to speak, giving its ideas your clear and open mind. It’s Not For Everyone is for everyone, as long as you’re willing to listen.