Review: Les 7 doigts de la main / The Seven Fingers in Psy at Peacock Theatre

Performance: 28 Apr - 15 may 2010
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 30 April 2010

The Seven Fingers 'Psy' 28 April - 15 May, Peacock Theatre.

Reviewed: 29 April 2010

Circus has been reinvented over the past 30 years or so and the new, improved human-only brand is on a roll. As the home base of the gargantuan global machine of Cirque du Soleil, Canada is an elite centre for circus arts but the body of physical magic in Cirque is being extended through the emerging hand of the 7 fingers. Formed in 2002, this smaller-scale entourage is now onto its fourth show and Psy seeks to use traditional circus skills – in a theatrical context – as a means of exploring the psyche.

*Psy* starts interestingly with the longest reminder not to take flash photography and switch off mobiles that I’ve heard – issued via an electronic voice reeling out useless data such as 25% of the audience would use the toilet in the interval, while dropping in a hint of the proportion that would leave their ‘phones switched on. This Hawkingesque voice also revealed that the height of romantic passion produces equivalent neurological signals to a mental disorder and explained that we all spend six years of our lives dreaming! (Only six?). The dénouement of this innovative – but lengthy – prologue was to pick out, via spotlight, an audience member who turned out to be “Michel Michel” (Guillaume Biron) whose particular problem was hearing voices. His opening solo act on the fixed trapeze was an astonishing foretaste of the skills to come, beginning in hanging from the bar by the back of his neck and finishing on his instep. If the strength and balance was not enough to impress, then the absolute stillness of each position was astounding.

However, the first half of the show failed to sustain this elevated start. The eleven performers introduced themselves in a group therapy session with disorders spanning an “easiguide to psychology” from addiction, amnesia and agoraphobia to OCD and paranoia. The Intermittent Explosive Disorder of the angry-looking “Suzi – with an i” (Olga Kosova) presented the most intriguing potential, later unravelling into acts of knife-manipulation and acrobatic wrestling. The juggling, tumbling and hand-to-hand skills of the first act were undeniably impressive but so tightly packaged in a rambling quasi-narrative – apparently about the thoughts of patients in a psychiatrist’s waiting room – that finding the skilful magic of the circus was like looking for stardust in a barrel-full of shredded cardboard. The performance wasn’t lifted by the frequent loud, dull thudding bass of the electronic soundtrack, alleviated only temporarily by the waiting room’s middle-of-the-road, instrumental of ‘The Look of Love’.

The second half started with some effective hand-balancing and then accelerated into overdrive for the last part of the show with outrageous skills flying thick and fast, beginning with a stunning Chinese pole duet from “Claire, the insomniac” (Héloïse Bourgeois) and “paranoiac George” (William Underwood). They defied gravity in holding themselves at right angles to the pole and sliding headlong to the floor, stopping centimetres from a nasty accident; tough enough to perform solo, here was a breathtakingly synchronised and dynamic duet. Other highlights were “Lily the agoraphobic” (Danica Gagnon-Plamondon) on the high, swinging trapeze and “Johnny the addict” (Julien Silliiau) on the spiralling German Wheel (two human-sized metal hoops, joined together at six points, looking like a giant tambourine without its skins).

The set was a section through a two-storey building (with a moveable staircase that served a multitude of purposes) and the final sequence engaged all eleven jugglers and acrobats in a full-height occupation of the Peacock’s proscenium, leaping through the levels of the building and juggling clubs from roof to floor. Best of all were the risky teeterboard skills of “Dexter, with Multiple Personality Disorder”, played by the pony-tailed Gisele Henriet whose propelled aerial body shapes twisted and piked until concluding with a massive triple somersault.

It would be impossible not to marvel at the seemingly effortless, explosive skills of this young ensemble of eight men and three women and I doubt that it’s even possible to see better circus skills in an intimate theatrical environment; but the packaging could have been more even-paced to improve the drama and impact. I was reminded of how Circus Cirkör dominated this stage so completely with their Inside Out show, last November. Their circus skills were no greater or more innovative – perhaps not even so good – but the whole package and image of their show, greatly enhanced by live music, made the experience so much more. Nevertheless, Psy is at the Peacock until 15 May and these young circus artists are well worth seeing.

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