No Fit State’s ‘Bianco’ brings its dynamism home

No Fit State - Adie Delaney

No Fit State - Adie Delaney - Credit: Archant

Roundhouse’s lofty space is fitting venue to take audiences on a spectacular journey

In the many years that Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse has run, the question has often been asked as to why the building is actually round. The factual answer is because it was originally home to a railway turntable in the mid-19th century. The fun answer is because the Roundhouse is the home of circus.

“We’ve worked with the Roundhouse before,” says Tom Rack, joint founder of the Welsh contemporary circus company NoFit State. “It’s a luxury, the rigging and space is fantastic. What we want to do now is make it part of our world.”

That world, from April 6 to 27, is Bianco, a circus show bursting in its celebration of savagery and beauty. The experience is more Cirque de Soleil than clowns and ringmaster, featuring a mixture of acrobatics and parkour set against a driving rock soundtrack. Loosely inspired by José Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning book, The Elephant’s Journey, Rack promises it will be an emotional night of highly interactive entertainment.

“If we told the audience they would be witnessing a story, that would be misleading. It’s not a narrative, but we do draw on the elephant’s journey and the audience are involved in it as much as anyone. They have to move around, make choices and become part of the action themselves.”

Spectacular scene

Much of the show’s draw, Rack says, comes from the dynamic between the personal and spectacular. One moment, the audience will be laughing as a sword-wielding performer tries to hunt for rats around their feet. The next, they’ll be stunned as he becomes the focal point of a spectacular scene swinging around the rooftops. Usual backstage operations like counter-weighting become part of the celebration, every performer is a permanent fixture, as opposed to a five-minute cameo.

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“You can stand in a different place and see a different show,” says Rack. “Latch onto one performer or stand back and watch the whole world, the choice is yours. It’s the reason some people come to see our shows two or three times.

“Bring the kids and they’ll love the energy. More literary audiences will look for the references. There’s always something new to see because of your view.”

This view is echoed by Freya Watson, one of the solo performers who Rack said were chosen on personality and performance flair, as well as raw skill. “In most shows you’re kept behind the wings, where sometimes you don’t notice the audience. Here though you get to play around with them, it definitely helps build more of a connection.”

Enjoying a revival

Both Watson and Rack reveal that this connection extends to the cast themselves. Unlike many contemporary groups, NoFit State lives the classic image of a circus troupe on tour. The result of this, Watson adds, is reflected in the raw and open expressionism of the show itself. Rack agrees and suggests that this beautiful, kinetic and artistic type of circus is behind the form’s revival.

“We’ve been going for 27 years and in the last 10 it’s become very popular here. In Europe it’s better established but the UK’s catching up quick. Now that we’re bringing it back home to the Roundhouse, hopefully we can take it to the next level.”

n NoFit State Circus’s Bianco runs at the Roundhouse from April 6 to 27.