‘Blokey’ circus troupe Barely Methodical set to upstage the big tops

Bromance at Edinburgh Fringe 2014. Picture: Alex Brenner

Bromance at Edinburgh Fringe 2014. Picture: Alex Brenner - Credit: Archant

Acrobatic trio Barely Methodical are riding a new wave in theatre, says Daniel Wittenberg.

A little less than 40 years ago, the art of circus skills shamefully remained confined to big tops. Countless expert entertainers had nowhere to perform but tacky, multi-coloured tents lined with roaring schoolchildren and – all too often – lions. Until more recent times, even the mere concept of circus was colonised by candyfloss, kitsch costumes and trapeze.

Traditional formats have been walking a tightrope, however, since the emergence of contemporary circus companies like Cirque du Soleil and Fuerzabruta. What’s more, sharing their greater focus on the overall visual effect, on story development, original soundtracks and shock factor, north London troupe Barely Methodical is getting in on the act.

Taking hand-to-hand acrobatics to the next level in a jaw-dropping routine exploring male companionship and its limits, the award-winning experimental group – comprised of just three men using only chairs as props – is preparing to open the 2015 London International Mime Festival at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, with its smash-hit show.

Islington-based troupe member Louis Gift can be seen as the current face of this alternative, almost edgy kind of circus. Built like a rugby player, he trains for three to five hours a day, utilising his background in freerunning to carry out more dynamic manoeuvres. He talks about tricks like a skateboarder would; an antithesis of your typical big top entertainer.

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“Classic circus artists have got a stricter way of training whereas our approach is more, ‘That looks cool, let’s try and do it’. We like to learn tricks that look good and if it shocks the audience, that’s a bonus,” explains Gift, who fell in love with flips after acting in a production of Oklahoma! at Camden School for Girls.

Having earned a degree at the National Centre for Circus Arts, the 23-year-old formed Barely Methodical alongside fellow course graduates Beren D’Amico and Charlie Wheeler, whose respective roots lay in martial arts and breakdancing. Soon after, the trio were captivating 2014 Edinburgh Fringe audiences with their unique brand of ‘blokey’ physical theatre.

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“Edinburgh was so much fun. We got quite a few really nice reviews, which was great, and ended up winning the Total Theatre Award for Circus.

“That was crazy because we were pooled with some amazing companies and were happy just to be nominated.”

Gift credits the troupe’s director Eddie Kay with adding its acclaimed narrative, turning their raw acrobatics into a touching showpiece about friendship. “He’s a boss. He has a lot of experience with dance, which was cool for us as it gives him a different approach to ours.

“Since there are three of us on stage essentially performing two-man routines, it’s about exploring how the person left out feels while the other two have their specific relationship,” he adds, mentioning that relatives and friends of the group, some of whom will be watching them for the first time in London this week, will recognise real traits in each artist’s persona.

Perhaps it is such authenticity, born out of contemporary urban influences and the desire to tell spectators a story, which has helped circus to branch out of the big top stereotype.

Barely Methodical will be performing at the Platform Theatre, King’s Cross, from January 8 to 10 as part of The London International Mime Festival (January 8 to 31, www.mimelondon.com).

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