No Show closes the distance between the audience and the performer. Director Ellie Dubois turns her critical gaze towards the expectations placed on female performers, and the difficulties contemporary circus acts face. Through first-person accounts and a deconstructed style, No Show brings us closer to the action and the inner lives of Francesca Hyde, Kate McWilliam, Michelle Ross, Alice Gilmartin, and Camille Toyer. In doing so, Dubois transforms what could have been a prototypical circus performance into a fresh reimagining of what contemporary art performances mean to women.
Each gymnast performs their most impressive feat throughout the show, all the while chipping away at the audience’s expectations. Michelle has to demonstrate her trapeze skills in mime because Nuffield Theatre’s stage cannot safely house her equipment. Camille Toyer’s stand out performance on the stainless steel Cyr wheel sees her demonstrating a level of skill and dedication to the sport that had the man sat four seats across from me saying ‘no’ in disbelief.
But this is not just any show; this is No Show. In keeping with the deconstructed theatre style, Kate stands by and narrates Camille’s performance, explaining that she is a hairs-breadth away from breaking her toes, her feet, her fingers.
The lights dim and Kate laments the fact that her specialism in Chinese pole is underused because directors call on her to perform more feminine gymnastics. Elements of this deconstructed circus are linked through a symbol of the women’s brazenness: they lift their fingers to the sky and stare at the audience.
Symbol of unity aside, not everything hits the mark.
Alice’s strength is awesome but overshadowed by her shtick of walking on stage and welcoming the audience to the performance. Again, and again, and again. After the third introduction, the joke fizzles out into nothing and laughs are few and far between.
Michelle and Francesca rush on stage and urge Alice to perform, reminding her that they are already halfway through the performance and that she should remember to smile. Smile, to distract the audience from ‘those massive arms,’ Francesca says. They at once remind the audience that female performers are more likely to be seen smiling, rather than speaking, and are more likely to be scrutinised, rather than admired for their skill.
Towards the end of the performance, the hoop sewed into Francesca’s hair is explained. Kate and Michelle hook the hoop to a rope which is connected to a barrel of water. When the barrel is on the floor, Francesca is suspended in the air. The deconstructed theatre element of No Show sometimes takes the circus-esque, edge-of-your-seat excitement away, but watching Kate and Michelle impishly throw the barrel to one another and dodge Francesca as she spun in mid-air truly made me feel like I was at the circus.
No Show is a testament to Francesca, Kate, Michelle, Alice, and Camille’s passion for their disciplines, and a celebration of the niche they have carved for themselves in the contemporary circus circuit.