The skill and talent of the circus performers is second to none, however the concept of Depart needs to be tightened, embracing all aspects of the performance, utilising the unique setting and having the same emotion, passion and story that is seen in the final scene, present throughout the show.
A cemetery is not the typical environment you would expect to experience theatre, but led by Yaron Lifschitz, Circa’s Depart opens up the medium of performance and collaboration showing that theatre has no boundaries.
This year’s LIFT Festival has so far brought variety and talent from all over the world to London’s theatre scene and Depart is an interesting and unique addition to the festival line up.
A promenade performance through Tower Hamlet’s Cemetery, Depart invites the audience to throw away their preconceptions of circus performance and experience a performance on the brink of life and death.
An element of mystery surrounds the show as the audience is given very little information, other than to dress appropriately for the environment and to walk around in silence. The audience is then divided into three separate groups and descends into the cemetery through a cloud of smoke, weaving through the overgrown paths, waiting in anticipation for what is about to be witnessed. The initial atmosphere that is created is magical but sadly it is a feeling that only dips in and out throughout the show.
As you walk through the cemetery, you are greeted with various fascinating acts and although all the performers are incredibly skilled, only some performers seemed able to tell a story and display emotion.
It seemed at times that the show relied too much on the unique cemetery setting to create a story, instead of the performers commanding the setting to take everything up another level, truly immerse the audience in this experience between life and death.
One understands that the performers are not actors, yet more interaction between the performers and the audience would have helped with the ethereal experience and given the show another dimension, one that would have drawn the performance more tightly together.
However, this potential was reached through a handful of the performers. The two male performers on the Chinese Pole and the Ariel Rope performers told a story of desperation and power through their act. The physicality of their acts also played with death through stunts that made the audience gasp in fear and delight.
Moreover, one of the female performers, dressed all in blue, kept appearing throughout the walk, tying together the performance as she guided single audience members through the crowd. There was a sense of urgency and emotion on her face that made her stand out. More of this from the other performers would have made the show really come to life.
The collaboration between Lee Curran’s lighting and Issy Adams’ and Sam Glazer’s sound was enchanting and held a commanding presence throughout the show. Every step the audience takes awakens their eyes and ears and, in this place associated with death, life became hidden around every corner. The show’s lighting worked slightly better when the sky darkened, as this added to the ethereal experience of the setting and brought out the beauty and elegance of the performers bodies.
When walking between the different acts, it was nice to see lights twinkling in your peripheral vision and hear the sound of music and the choral singers drifting through the trees.
However, at times, when watching an act perform and trying to be present in that single moment, the sound of other choral singers was very distracting and meant one was unable to be completely mesmirised by the action occurring in front of you. This happened at various points throughout the performance where the sound of the chorus singers in another section was too loud. If the timings of the show were slightly tightened this could be solved as you would have the effect of the cemetery being alive, but it would not interfere with specific moments of the performance.
The use of video by SDNA was very interesting and intriguing and could have been used more. The projections on the gravestones were beautiful and delicate and they helped embed the performance into the setting. Still, more could have been made of the unique cemetery setting.
After the initial smoke-filled walk into the cemetery, guided through a pathway of graves, the impression is given that you are being invited into the land of the dead. The projections helped maintain the mood but they were not enough. Relying on the setting to tell stories, without really making the most of it, wastes a golden opportunity.
The overriding issue with the production was how it all tied together. There was a disconnecting feeling created when walking to and from the different acts although walking through the darkness was itself an interesting experience. It was these moments where the magic of the performance dipped out as the audience became more distracted by what they were walking on and where they were walking to, than being immersed in the atmosphere around them.
The front of house team guiding the groups were brilliant, yet they gave off a rather cold vibe and maybe if they could have been used more as storytellers to fill these gaps a better immersive experience could have been created. Likewise, even lighting the pathways more or using more hidden projection could have, again, drawn the performance together.
The show however did get a lot stronger as Lifschitz definitely saved the best to last; the open stage finale was haunting and mesmerising, providing the perfect platform to demonstrate the skill and talent of all the performers.
This finale was where you truly saw how all elements of the show had the potential to be brought together from the outset. From the haunting sounds drifting from the chorus, to the powerful lighting and dramatic stunts from the performers, you become mesmerised by the sights before you. The audience was able to see clearly the emotion in the eyes of the performers, as they interacted with each other, telling a story of desperation and liminality. It is beautiful and breath taking and demonstrated the essence of the show that should have been there throughout.
The skill and talent of the circus performers is second to none, however the concept of Depart needs to be tightened, embracing all aspects of the performance, utilising the unique setting and having the same emotion, passion and story that is seen in the final, present throughout the show.