I had only seen this piece on video and we booked it for the festival on the basis of that, and also on the wonderful experience of having Ockham’s Razor at the 2016 Echo Echo festival. The show they did then, Tipping Point, was really beautiful and the people in the company, from performers to management, were an absolute pleasure to work with.
I am very happy to have gone with my intuition on this because This Time is a very beautiful and touching show.
Unlike many acrobatic and/or aerial shows there is nothing sinewy, or ripped, or muscle bound, or show-off, or border line anorexic about This Time. This is because of a wonderful hole in the middle of the piece. There is no “young adult” in it. There is Faith, a 13 year old girl; Lee, a woman of around 60; and Alex and Charlotte who I’d imagine are mid to late thirties, but anyway clearly mature adults. There is no young adult, in their twenties, to show their moves, to push the pace, to work on excitement and adrenaline. This makes it much easier for watchers to identify with the performers as ordinary, real people and it also means that the rhythm of the show is particular, and different from what one might expect from circus-theatre. This is an intensely lovely thing and is the foundation for the whole composition.
Although the skill, strength and technical ability of the performers is very clear, the real values of This Time are encapsulated in the way that the hands of the performers move. They move methodically and carefully to grasp the equipment – the trapeze, cradle, rigging wires, frames – and each other. They are offered and they wait for the offer to be accepted, they move one limb at a time, like a careful rock climber making sure that the support remains through the transfer of weight. I was drawn to watch those hands so carefully, and I felt the qualities of care, communication, listening, patience, responsibility, intimacy and a sensual pleasure.
These feelings are exactly what the piece is about, and the simple and basic physical embodiment of these values gives a depth and profundity to what is, overall, a rather straightforwardly constructed composition.
The piece includes a series of monologues focused on stages of life and the particular vulnerabilities that come with each life stage. Typically, in theatre, one assumes that monologues like this may not be literally true, but in this case I was absolutely sure that the stories told were real and autobiographical memories of the performers. I think I assumed this because of the context set by the aerial scenes. The aerial scenes are “real”. There is no artifice in the hand of a man grasping the hand of a dangling girl. No pretense in the balancing of the weight, at height, between four performers moving themselves through complex, but gently performed images, on a suspended rope cradle and trapeze. The reality is that we see a careful, caring, process of support and interaction which is deeply respectful of the different needs of each performer. The overall rhythm is given by that of the youngest and oldest performers. This makes the whole aerial aspect stand as an explicit, clearly stated, metaphor for the central concerns and values of the piece.
The clarity of that metaphor, and the “realness” of the action that creates it, provide a strong compositional foundation which makes it appropriate for the monologues to be performed in a straightforward, almost theatrically naive, way. That manner, which in other contexts could be slightly embarrassing or annoying, actually feels appropriate.
The design and use of the aerial equipment adds another element. There is a strong sense of the equipment being dynamic and a means of communication and interaction rather than static objects that are there to be “used” or which are seen as providing a challenge to be overcome. Even the counterbalancing processes, which remain offstage and unseen, are felt and understood. One can see that there is a communication and adaptation process going on; a sense of live timing and shared purpose behind the scenes.
The simple and un-armoured presence of the performers, their straightforwardly autobiographical tales, the transparency of the aerial work and the poise in the equipment design are all in themselves plain and uncomplicated. However, the elements interact with each other to create rich references and metaphors, multiple points of compassionate connection and fellow feeling with the audience, and a clear statement of the value of kindness, care and respect, and the importance of not always being in a rush, especially in inter-generational relationships.
The magical thing is that all these elements and the complex effects of their interactions are present from almost the very start of the piece. They are just there. They don’t need long to be built up. Already in the first aerial quartet my heart opened wide from how moving and beautiful it was.