Three’s A Crowd

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All Or Nothing’s aerial theatre is technically clever, but its vague concept fails to captivate.

Image of Three’s A Crowd

@ Manipulate Festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on Sat 31 Jan, 2015 (then touring)

Though technically clever, and novel in its style, All Or Nothing‘s aerial theatre piece Three’s A Crowd fails to captivate on this opening Saturday of the Manipulate Festival.

Nominally the story of six friends at a reunion, the action is played out on a stage criss-crossed with rigging and ropes, from which the performers clip and unclip themselves to create aerial dances that portray their relationships. At times they gather round a single trapeze and smile as if taking a selfie. Other times they mimic each other’s twirls, like friends with an instinctive mutual understanding. A recurring move is for one of the performers to run along the stage, only to be yanked back through the air as the elastic of the ropes grows taut. It’s used variously to express a playful, carefree spirit or a sense of something or someone out of reach.

The physicality does impress; Danuta Ramos executes some brilliant moves on the aerial silks, and her scene with Tony Mills – Mills crawling the stage with Ramos balancing on his hands and feet – requires remarkable strength and poise. It’s equally physical off-stage, as crew members shin up and down the rigging to provide counter-balances to the dancers. And, while the mechanics of swinging from scaffolding make it hard to be delicate, there are moments of quiet gracefulness from Freya Jeffs.

However, the narrative which would set this apart from pure circus can only weakly be discerned. When Itxaso Moreno utters the only words of the show, they come in enigmatic snippets about “my friends”, never offering anything but the vaguest of platitudes. A hotch-potch of fairly ugly costumes lend little information about their wearers’ characters and likewise, there is little distinctive about their individual conduct on stage. In places, it feels like a plotless buddy movie. Performers come together in seemingly arbitrary combinations, either joyfully swinging and smiling away or clinching together for more sombre scenes of sadness, jealousy and loss.

The result is neither visually arresting enough to work as a dance or circus piece, nor coherent enough to work as drama. Despite the talented performers, Three’s A Crowd is left hanging ineffectually somewhere in the middle.