Having seen the poster of Ellie Dubois’s No Show, some theatre-goers – like me – may have been expecting a circus version of A Chorus Line. I was wrong. This is much more and, at the same time, much less. These five artists break down all preconceptions of what it means to be a female circus performer; they are varied in shape and size, they are muscular, they are sweaty and breathless and lacking the glossy hair and makeup expected. Rather than a chorus of clone-like performers, they are individuals with special skills and personas. They challenge the audience right from the opening gambit using an old-fashioned lead mic – one which, as physical performers, they are clearly unused to speaking into. No Show offers a contrast between the moves and tricks of their profession which they demonstrate successfully, or not as the show continues. Demonstrations and tricks are interspersed with dialogue directly to the audience or interaction among themselves as a team of strong women.
As Camille Toyer whirls and spins the Cyr wheel – her hands and feet skimming the ground – we are told of the dangers she faces should she become dizzy and fall. A graceful performer and master in her artistry, she steals the show with her unassuming strength and ability. Alice Gilmartin has a harder time as she amazes the audience with her hand balances, while her fellow artists encourage her to do more difficult moves. She never gets her hands on the mic to speak to the audience. She is just a super woman with no voice. Kate McWilliam, tumbler extraordinaire, cartwheels 50 around the stage before we learn that – until now – she has rarely been given the chance when male performers have been present. Accordion player Francesca Hyde reveals why she has this strange top knot hair style when she counterbalances with a water container and swings around in the air dodging those below. Finally, there is Michelle Ross – despite being an underused trapeze artist here in No Show, she nevertheless supports the others in the troupe during their group moves.
The show, which lasts approximately an hour, has the audience wondering at times what they have come to see. It is skilful but lacks finesse. The costumes and music are a confusing mix and difficult to relate to the story, if there even is one. It is contemporary circus at a developmental stage. It is thought-provoking but leaves you wanting to know more about the performers, their achievements and their disappointments. Ultimately, show business is a ruthless and hard profession, yet this show does not do enough to reveal that.
Although No Show would be strong as a opening to something greater, there is no doubt that there is more to come from this talented company of young women.