Apocalypse, but make it Circus

6 December 2021

YUCK Circus has created a dystopian landscape where survivors skip rope, scavengers suspend themselves mid-air, and worms breakdance – and Claire Coleman is hooked.

The Rechabite, 3 December 2021

Scene: The Rechabite Hall is swathed in smoky blue and red light, casting an otherworldly glow over its industrial interior.

Moving around the assembling audience are six unsettling figures. One sports a spiky insect-like mask made of cable ties, another a mohawk of cigarettes. Someone has a string of naked Barbie doll corpses lashed together around their waist. A roaming Scavenger hunches under the mountain of drapes they wear, their long-fingered gloves and huge goggles the only indication of their humanity.

A performer hangs off a flying fox, a lit sparkler clamped between her legs.
Jessica Smart with the precariously placed sparkler. Photo: Matthew Gedling

Their leader is Georgia Deguara, a young femme wearing a leather jacket which, she informs us, once belonged to her deceased father but is nevertheless conveniently a women’s size 10. She proceeds to hammer a long nail into her nose, laugh maniacally, remove the nail, and then lick it.

Local outfit YUCK Circus’s latest offering, WREKD, puts such care into cohering costumes, bodies, lighting, and sound, with the existing set of The Rechabite that it would be remiss not to gush. It’s so immersive that the audience requires no warm-up. When the show proper begins, we’re already hooked.

Stripping back to leather and lycra to facilitate movement, the cast begins with tumbling and acrobatics. Flyer Brooke Duckworth leaps backward from the first storey balcony to be caught by the rest of the crew in a reimagined trust activity on steroids. Jessica Smart shoots diagonally across the auditorium on a flying fox with a lit sparkler protruding from her nether regions. Muscly bases Ella Norton and Ben Kotosvki-Steele liberally throw other members around, and form the foundation of towers of bodies the cast build.

Solos follow. Jessica Mews’ hula hooping to Blondie’s “Call Me” shows exquisite prop control, throwing fast and slow, synchronised and divergent movements together using two, four and eight hoops. Smart tumbles and contorts, her body’s uncanny angles reflecting the wail of the musical saw accompaniment played by Deguara.

There are a lot of highlights, and few lowlights. While the attempts at violent retribution that follow repeated stuff ups in a skipping rope sequence are very funny, they don’t quite counteract the errors. But the other group work delights. Kotovski-Steele and Smart team up for a rollerskating duet with jumps and cartwheels at breakneck speed, and again for some prodigious trapeze work. Everyone dons black and neon striped worm costumes for a breakdance-style sequence under ultraviolet light, performing variations on “The Worm”.

A performer clas in a neon striped unitard lies on their chest, their body arched and legs extended in the air.
Variations on ‘The Worm’. Photo: Matthew Gedling

Best and fairest of the night must go to Norton, who plays The Scavenger and sets up the Worm segment with creepy spoken word, riffing off the nursery rhyme “Nobody Like Me, Everybody Hates Me”.

Norton’s later aerial performance begins with a kooky striptease of sorts, as the many layers of her Scavenger costume are removed roughly but performatively. Unencumbered, but never dropping character, she ascends the straps to the tune of Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. Where aerial work is often elegant and lithe in a manner that performs sexiness according to the male gaze, Norton’s performance bucks convention. It is fierce and wild, sometimes jagged and weird, always unrestrained and powerful, wholly captivating.

WREKD thrives in its teamwork. The cast makes one another look good, and as a result everyone shines. It’s well worth watching them strut their stuff.

2023 update! WREKD is back at The Rechabite, 21 September – 7 October.

WREKD continues at The Rechabite until 19 December 2021.

Pictured top is Jessica Mews. Photo: Matthew Gedling

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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