Hang On

Lyric Hammersmith, 15 – 25 April 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Family show Hang On, a collaboration between visual theatre company Theatre-Rites and aerial theatre company Ockham’s Razor, thumbs its nose at health and safety officials everywhere.

The stack of risk assessment paperwork necessary to cover the aerial construction of a giant trapeze-cum-mobile high above the Lyric stage, by performers dangling from the half-built pieces without harnesses or safety nets, must be a serious fire hazard in itself.

The production is cheekily self-aware in this regard: the impetus for much of the acrobatic clambering about is a collective quest to cure boilersuited health and safety obsessive Eric MacLennan of a fear of heights and an accompanying aversion to fun. Eric, in turn, encourages quiet juggler Stephano Di Renzo’s cautious wooing of daredevil Tina Koch.

At its heart, Hang On is all about the spectacle: the precarious swings and drops, every movement affecting the mobile’s balance and thus the position of the other performers, all accompanied by Nao Masuda on chimes, drums and musical saws.

But the little dabs of plot and characterisation add an extra layer of enjoyment. It’s undeniably more entertaining to watch a man climb higher and higher to needle an uptight friend, or juggle five balls to impress a girl, than to see the same feats performed as a technical exercise, or to show off.

The company’s pie-in-the-sky first idea was for the audience to lie underneath the mobile looking up, like a baby in a cot. Naturally the health and safety bogeyman vetoed that plan – perhaps informing MacLennan’s heavily caricatured persona – and the production certainly feels limited by the Lyric’s proscenium arch. The three-dimensional spectacle of the mobile really deserves an audience on all sides.

But there aren’t any sufficiently large theatres in-the-round in London – and the whole point of City Circ, a multi-venue season curated by Crying Out Loud, for which Hang On is the launch event, is to get circus performance out of the big top and in front of a wider audience.

Something is definitely lost in that process, but Hang On remains entrancing for adults and children alike, so perhaps 270 degrees of sightline is a small price to pay for a whole new audience base. And this is only the beginning of City Circ – perhaps if it proves popular enough we’ll see some spaces appearing that can show off the full potential of companies like these.

Crew includes Sue Buckmaster (director) and Alex Broadie (choreographer)

Cast includes Stefano Di Renzo, Alex Harvey, Tina Koch, Eric MacLennan, Nao Masuda and Charlotte Mooney

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