As someone who’s never even mastered the basic handstand, circus acts like Compagnie XY always fill me with two emotions, in fairly equal measure: awe – because I’m watching people do things that shouldn’t even be possible for the average human being, let alone someone as hopelessly uncoordinated as me – and dread, because it always seems very likely that at some point someone’s going to end up falling on their head.
Of course, nobody actually does fall on their head in It’s Not Yet Midnight, the third show from the French collective… but it’s not for lack of trying. An action-packed programme sees the acrobats tumbling, flying and balancing high above the ground, seemingly without fear and often even with a hint of amusement. You know you’re looking at something pretty special when after a while even a three-person tower doesn’t warrant a round of applause any more. It’s not that it’s not impressive; it’s that they make it look so easy, like this is a completely everyday occurrence – which I guess for them it is – and that matter-of-fact attitude becomes slightly infectious.
But this is not just a troupe of acrobats stringing together trick after trick to dazzle us; there’s a story and a cheeky sense of humour to the show, which takes us through the events and emotions of a not-very-average night out. The evening begins with a mass brawl, followed by reconciliation, dancing, romance, uncontrollable laughter and a mesmerising dream-like sequence that sees one acrobat make her way across the stage balanced on her colleagues’ outstretched hands. In fact there’s so much going on, all the time, that it’s often hard to know where to look; while we’re watching a couple lindy hop at one side of the stage, it’s easy to miss another of those three-person towers being quietly constructed elsewhere. With all 22 acrobats on stage for most of the show, it’s complete chaos – but clearly of the meticulously organised kind.
Some stunts are set to music, others performed in pin-drop silence, interrupted only by the audience’s squeaks of terror as another body goes flying casually through the air. Though of course that terror isn’t really necessary – not just because these are obviously highly skilled acrobats who know exactly what they’re doing, but because such is the care and attention between the performers that if anything does go wrong, they’re always prepared. Though the stunts are undoubtedly incredibly risky and not to be tried at home, the trust between the acrobats – who live, work and train together – is absolute, and the show’s daring stems from the fact that every man and woman on the stage knows there’ll be someone there to catch them if they fall.
Compagnie XY was founded on the principles of friendship and collaboration, the idea that “alone we go faster, together we go further”. This is true from a technical point of view – many of the stunts quite literally wouldn’t be possible without a team of people to play their part. But it also comes across in the spirit of 22 performers who, despite each being incredibly talented, make no attempt to outshine anybody else, and who often seem to be having just as much fun as the audience.
Despite gradually upping the stakes throughout the hour-long show, It’s Not Yet Midnight ends not with a dramatic finale, but with the group simply standing together on stage. Far from being a disappointment, this striking visual image sums up what the company and their show are all about, even before a moving curtain call message about the importance of working together. Consequently, the show ends up as heartwarming as it is sensational, jaw-dropping and hugely entertaining.
It’s Not Yet Midnight is at the Roundhouse until 23rd April.