Your reviewer was in a grumpy mood. As he walked across the footbridge over the Thames to the Southbank Centre, the sky was still heavy with the dark clouds that had poured torrents of rain over the capital. A rainbow now appeared, its end apparently in the river as one looked downstream, while captivated commuters on the Hungerford Bridge pointed their mobile phones at it to embalm the moment. Suddenly, the rainclouds wept their burthen to the ground in a torrential downpour. Your reviewer was completely soaked by the time he entered the London Wonderground for the Underbelly Festival and splashed through the puddles till he came to the entrance to the Spiegeltent – a tent with mirrors, a very large tent, with a very small circular stage in the middle, and rows of seats all around. What was in store? Would “the World’s First All-Female Cyr Wheel Trio”, as the blurb described them, be something to take his mind off his wet feet?
The blurb gave your reviewer little confidence of light relief. It said that the three artistes had named their show ‘Hyena’ after “the uniquely female-dominated social system of brown spotted hyenas”, and their intention was to make a work “that is free of thinly veiled chauvinism and implied sexual intrigue.” Their rallying cry to women was “Join the pack, smash the patriarchy!”
Steady on, ladies! This is the sort of overblown nonsense that ends up in Private Eye’s ‘Pseuds’ Corner’. How can three incredibly fit gymnasts performing nigh-impossible stunts on big hollow wheels inspire women with less athletic physiques to rise up against the monstrous regiment of men?
Fortunately, Alula’s show can be enjoyed as sheer entertainment as the trio do weird things inside, outside and on their big hoops. Their acrobatics are indeed awe-inspiring, and the accompanying sound-track and vocals drive the whole thing along. Dr Johnson, when watching a different kind of performance, was told that it was very difficult to achieve. “Madam”, he responded, “I wish it were impossible!” That is not what the audience wished at the Underbelly Festival last night. The acrobatic display looks impossible, it certainly is very difficult to achieve, and it keeps one in a state of rapt attention throughout. It certainly kept this reviewer’s mind off his wet feet!