Roll up, roll up, dance company Far From the Norm’s circus is in town to bring you the frantic, fierce, freewheeling Orator! A broad-brushstrokes political contemporary dance/theatre piece that is running at full pelt from the moment you step in the room, full of statement imagery and rousing performances.
Entering in fours and fives and given colourful rosettes with a smirking chimp on, the audience is welcomed by the dancers, clothed in fancy dress and armoured vests, to Charlie’s birthday party. But Charlie’s party quickly turns into Charlie threatening everyone with his gun, a “Bang” flag dangling from the end. Suddenly, we’re lead through a shimmering curtain to dance gleefully before an eleven-foot image of the chimp, then the Clown follows through, then Charlie again, then the riot police, then the Ringmaster, then… The show’s focus moves fast, and there’s no time for even sitting down as the audience are led around, danced with, hugged, threatened, and pushed around the stage by the action. The company’s audience interaction is rooted in the mischievous clown rather than the respectful Punchdrunk performer, and this dangerous status quo helps create the unhinged mood.
The mood is one of systematic mockery, of disdain for the political class, the upholders of these powers, and the hypocrisy of those who promise a change but end up replacing the tyrant. The company utilise the archetypes of the Clown and Ringmaster to turn it into one big joke and be instigators of change, but it does seem that often they’re simply scraping the surface for edgy material. The circus roles are performed well, with precision and dexterity, but the Clown on a small bicycle just seemed to be thrown in because that’s what clowns do. Whooping laughter pervades potentially unsettling moments. Joker sound bites from The Dark Knight play while Charlie’s pointing his gun at us, one man against the world. It feels a little too fed by marketed disobedience. It’s a bit of a “Banksy” rebellion, a clever image with effect, but little cause. Conversely, the Riot police section worked well due to its brave staging. Lit only with their torches, shouting fiercely, pulling out audience members at random and giving them a mugshot sign reading “Senor Anus”, actually herding the audience around the thin space while the electronic music blares, it felt like they were exploring a theme rather than posturing with one.
All of the performers carry the show wonderfully. Charlie’s fluid skittering on the floor is a stand out, and you should never turn your back on that clown. The whole company are like coiled springs, never missing a beat with each other and always keeping the energy high. The sound direction is well done, and the piece as a whole gets stronger and a bit more complex as it progresses.
If you like your dance loud, bold and exciting, and don’t mind things that are just a bit too edgy, this show is great fun. I can see it making a few people groan, but I couldn’t help but smile throughout. Orator has a refreshing directness, and wonderful performers.