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Box of Frogs

Posted on September 6, 2012

img 5926 bicycle copy

img_5926_bicycle-copyPart of Southbank’s Unlimited festival, Mish Weaver’s Box of Frogs is a circus show about bipolar disorder. Depression and circus may not seem to be obvious companions, but, in fact, the two sit together remarkably well. At the show’s opening, two of Stumble danceCircus’s five onstage performers (there are two more featured on film: juggler Chris Patfield and Gemma Palomar Delgado on the Chinese pole) are on an “up”.

img_6107_paddy_on_bike-copyKaveh Rahnama, dressed in purple and gold, can’t stop talking. Words pour out of him like water. It’s funny and exhausting: “Red is the colour of circus”/“I have an Auntie Morganza who had her second toe missing”/ “Do you look at the top of people’s heads and think you could recognise them?/ “It’s what my grandmother used to call me: Kaveh the enormous.”

His acrobatic partner, Lauren Hendry, is also on a high. She screeches, squeals, flings herself into the gymnastics and changes her outfit constantly. Stripping down to her underwear over and over again, she is carefree – almost careless – with her body. As she clings to other characters or gabbles and gesticulates to the live musicians (Howard Jacobs and Simon King) she seems to leave herself as exposed emotionally as she does physically.

Playing a maternal role, rope artist Lyn Routledge sifts through a huge pile of costumes and unearths the sleeping Paddy Waters (pictured above right) from beneath it. She props him up on her feet and he pedals her hands before she heaves him on to his bicycle. Morose Paddy groans and sighs. Weighed down with lethargy, he starts to cycle in circles, as if on autopilot  – joined eventually on his bike by the other three and sad-faced hula hoop artist Silvia Pavone.

As Hendry and Rahnama slide out of their mania into a downer and Pavone and Waters lift out of their slumps, each performer offers a two-sided account of themselves – baldly put, a happy showcase of their skills and a sad one.

box_of_frogs_all_on_kaveh-copyThe results are not always predictable. I preferred the meditative, hypnotic quality to Pavone’s melancholic hula hooping – lying down she spins a hoop with one leg with almost negligible movement – to her impressive six-hoops-at-a-time perky performance.

The more poignant images endure in the memory. On the rope, Routledge plunges down like the sudden and swift descent of a mood or evokes a hanging body in a haunting reminder of where bipolar can lead. And it occurred to me, too, that nothing quite captures depression like the sight of a man cycling backwards as the front wheel spins out of control.

Of course, this is a simplified account of what happens on stage. Routledge’s character seems to have more of an anxiety, or anger, problem than bipolar and Kaveh’s manic talking lasts much longer than his brief silent period. In truth, the show seems to say, there as many types of depression as there are people.

Photographs © Mark Morreau

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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