No Show (4 stars)

This article is from 2017

No Show

credit: Ruari Lambert

Exposing circus' ugly side while celebrating feminine strength

From the beady-eyed look Francesca Hyde sizes the audience up with before striking her first note on the accordion, you can tell there's something up with this circus. The sugary 1940s routine and Victoriana black and white leotards may lure us into thinking we know what Ellie Dubois' company is about, but shortly afterwards hand balancer Alice Gilmartin tries to introduce herself and has her mouth clamped shut while being forced upside down.

There's a modish deadpan attitude to these early parts of the show, but as the performers slowly open up, the reasons for their wryness become apparent.

Acrobat Kate McWilliam, after performing a personal best of 55 cartwheels in 60 seconds tells us that one of her first jobs after circus school was on a TV show where the men were allowed to power tumble while the women had to do pretty things. She also breezily explains the mechanics of the Cyr wheel while colleague Lisa Chudalla demonstrates: 'If Lisa were to step on the floor she'd break all of her toes.'

The theme of women's strength versus their treatment in the circus world continues throughout, and takes an unintentionally sinister turn when, after one of the cast members bodyshames Alice, telling her that smiling will draw attention away from her big arms – the arms keeping her majestically inverted – a lone man in the audience laughs.

No Show isn't perfect but in the Fringe bubble of Circa and Casus, Hot Brown Honey and NoFit State, it's easy to forget there is a whole world of commercial circus out there that performers are being groomed for while at school, and which, like many mainstream genres, is still woefully reactionary on gender roles. So to see young women making the kind of circus they want, on their own terms, is a wonderful thing.

Summerhall, until 27 Aug (not 21), 4.15pm, £12 (£10).

Ellie Dubois: No Show

The real stories, from the pain to the failure, behind the smiles and stunts of traditional circus performers.