'Shelter Me' review or 'Would you like a coffee with your cyr wheel?'

Shelter Me, Circumference Theatre 
Theatre Delicatessen, Wednesday June 3rd 2015
Written for Time Out

I’m standing inside a lattice of hula hoops, chatting with a charming circus performer. In a few minutes, my companion will scamper up some stairs and then leap right off them. Frankly, I’m worried about her. Circus shows are normally a dazzling-yet-distant affair. Circumference theatre company have tried to strip away the spectacle and create an intimate experience. The results are decidedly mixed, but there’s no denying that ‘Shelter Me’ is a total one-off. 

Designer Beata Csikmak has transformed the Theatre Delicatessen building (previously home to the Guardian) into a hodgepodge of brightly coloured and madcap spaces. The main room is filled with cotton wool clouds and rainbow colours. Later we’ll travel into shadowy halls decked with floating sheets, a shabby room crammed with broken wires and, errr, a kitchen. Aniek de Rooj’s atmospheric score lends the night a glazed-eyed and hippy-like feel.  

Every immersive show you’ve seen is referenced here: the headphones recall Fuel, the roaming sections remind us of Punchdrunk, and there are also nods to Shunt and ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Half the time I don’t know where to look, what to feel or how to behave.

There’s such ambition in director Maia Alexander’s show, but zilch consistency. An intense aerial silk show from Aislinn Mulligan is preceded by a very silly scene in which we’re asked to make a cup of coffee; before Helena Reynolds’ haunting hoop work, we’re shoved into a cupboard and told to discuss the merit of the word ‘peanut’. The beautiful and banal sit side by side.

The company has devised the script and it’s cliché-ridden and confused. We’re also bombarded by text messages in a move that’s meant to highlight the distancing effect of technology, but is mostly just annoying. Finally, we’re led to a rooftop where Pablo Meneu swings among the skyscrapers. It’s an exquisite closing sequence to a show that sinks and soars, but never quite finds it footing. 


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