Review: Belly of the Whale at Greenwich & Docklands Festival

Belly of the Whale, the new show from acclaimed aerial theatre company Ockham’s Razor, began in 2016 as an idea to make “an easy to tour, small outdoor show exploring the relationship between two people”. Somewhere over the last two years, the “easy to tour” part has clearly gone out the window – the centrepiece of the performance is now a huge, heavy and architecturally fascinating structure of wood and steel affectionately known by the company as “the beast”. Despite this physical expansion, however, the heart of the show remains the same and the performance, directed by Tina Koch, retains a feeling of intimacy as it explores themes of friendship and collaboration in a unique and quietly thrilling 40 minutes.

Photo credit: Mark Dawson Photography

It soon becomes clear that the structure is much more than a prop; its versatility is revealed gradually, to the delight of adults and children alike, as it transforms from a slide to a see-saw to a climbing frame to a catapult – each demanding a different kind of interaction with the performers. The mechanical complexity is such that even when we think we’ve seen it all, another configuration is just around the corner, with at least one of these drawing a collective “ooh” from the assembled Greenwich crowd as it was revealed.

Each of the three performers – Amanda Homa, Nathan Johnston and Stefano di Renzo – gets an opportunity to impress with their own solo spot, but while their talent as individuals is undeniable, this isn’t a show that relies on sensational, gasp-inducing stunts to make its point, and in fact it’s when the three work together that the performance really comes alive. This is particularly true of the finale, which is obviously – and necessarily – very carefully choreographed to ensure the structure remains balanced, but to all intents and purposes appears to be just three friends having fun and existing together in peaceful, productive harmony. That image contrasts powerfully with moments early on in the show during which the three go out of their way to disrupt each other, and end up achieving very little as a result.

Included in this group camaraderie is composer and musician Gabriele Pierro, who provides a fascinating soundscape for the performance, combining live music with recorded sound effects that reflect the movement and mood on stage. When all these elements are brought together, the result is a show that’s innovative, entertaining, and mesmerising in more ways than one – and because it’s neither too long nor too scary, it’s perfect for audiences of any age.

Belly of the Whale continues on tour throughout the summer – all performances are free to attend. For a full list of dates and venues, visit Ockham’s Razor’s website.

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