Powerful and innovative exploration of trauma almost reaches full potential
It's testament to Emma Serjeant's immersion in her work that you could forget this is a circus piece. There are no fourth wall-busting moments of spontaneous applause, no matter how intricate and arduous her hand balances, contortions and flights are. Even in these boundary-pushing years of post cirque nouveau this is an unusual step.
Serjeant found Fringe fame as part of Australian troupe Casus a few years ago, and has developed this solo show in collaboration with director John Britton. It's framed with a loose, fragmented narrative; a woman's life is blown open and scattered across the stage with all its ugly, dark and shameful parts on show, following one moment of earth-shattering trauma.
Serjeant's movement vocabulary is the reckless, precarious one of circus, but she uses it like a dancer, crafting patterns, drawing physical lines into emotional ideas. Spinning down from perilously high in a tiny hoop, she tells us she has woken in confusion. When later she climbs through the hoop, a contortion act becomes a discombobulated series of snapshots – she is literally out of sorts.
There are huge, fascinating notions at play here – what makes a person, other than flesh, bone, memory and desire, and what of this matters when we stand on the precipice between life and death? But the script feels a bit like a victim of its own fragmentation, stuck in a loop that doesn't progress beyond a certain depth. Some of the lines are awkwardly blunt, and hints about the darker side of Grace are dropped in but never developed.
A blasting, wrecking, messy revelation of an imperfect life, Grace doesn't feel as if it hits its full potential. Nevertheless there is something trailblazing about Serjeant's approach to circus, and it will be hugely exciting to see what she does next.
Assembly Checkpoint, until 28 Aug (not 15, 22 & 23), 5.30pm, £13–£14 (£12–£13).