Circus: Who needs a safety net?

DE LA GUARDA THE ROUNDHOUSE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
THE AUDIENCE members didn't need the thudding drum-beat to get their pulses going. Within minutes of being herded into the dark room, they were craning their necks upwards as a tantalising shadow-trapeze show played itself out on the thin membrane of paper above their heads. If the show - as the publicity had promised - was better than sex, then this was the foreplay. They weren't disappointed.

The explosion of publicity surrounding the Argentinian group De La Guarda's return to London is safe in the knowledge that it will be upstaged by the show. From the moment a demonic trapeze artist rips his way through the membrane of paper, the audience is hurtled into 70 minutes of sensual confusion. Two girls run wildly across a vertical floor; an angling buffoon with naked buttocks grabs people from the crowd and elevates them to temporary stardom; balloons burst beneath the feet; water jets assail expensive suits and hairstyles.

The show's secret is that it never allows the crowd to feel safe. For a moment while the membrane of paper is still intact, it seems that water is going to flood through and soak the audience; later as the audience watches two lovers run up the vertical wall, the pair fly more and more violently out into the crowd, threatening physical harm as well as titillation. At one point, a girl is suspended on a rope and bounced gently against a vertical screen. The crowd's amusement turns to anxiety as the men operating the ropes smash her increasingly violently against the screen, while she merely sighs and laughs.

Like Cirque du Soleil, the atmosphere is one of carnival - and foolery and physical comedy have as much place as acrobatic feats. Group members hang from the sides watching or shouting. They also harass the audience - one girl runs round shoving them out of the way, a man rattles a whoop into the microphone, demanding a similar response from the crowd.

This is a world in which no one talks - people growl, rant, scream, and shout, but civilised behaviour is banned. It seems that the performers as well as the audience achieve catharsis. You leave the Roundhouse unable for a while to return to normal. All you want is to indulge the primal urge to scream, howl and dance in the street.

Rachel Halliburton

Booking: 0171-424 9800. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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