Circus Review


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Acrobat present Rounhouse Circus Fest

with: Jo Ann Lancaster, Simon Yates, Grover Lancaster - Cole & Fidel Lancaster- Cole


Technicians: Ryan Taplin, Scott Grayland


Musical Direction: Tim Barrass



13 - 16 MAY 2010






A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Propaganda is a circus show devised by an Australian family, Jo Ann Lancaster, her partner Simon Yates and their two sons, Grover (10) and Fidel (6) who play the keyboard and drum. Propaganda is a spectacle unlike your average circus, as it features no clowns, no lion tamers and no juggling midgets, rather using impressive acrobatics and fearless stunts to mock the consumerism of Western society.  At the same time it manages to be a truly heart warming affair; as it is a show created by a family; the presence of their children creates an intimate and relaxed atmosphere that retains a touching homeliness despite the dazzling and at times dangerous stunts.

Inside the giant drum that is Camden's Roundhouse, lies a simple stage with a pole at its centre; ropes tied from its top reach to the sides of the stage and the audience sit in stadium style tiers surrounding the action. The dark set is lit by one sharp light that sits on the stage creating shadows of the two acrobats on the back wall while their sons sit in the darkness on the side of the stage playing their instruments in time to their parents’ elegant acrobatics, while a technician helps them keep their cues.

Megaphones stand at the corners of the stage and at its centre. On a few occasions they are used to play a voice giving orders which Yates mimes along to, wagging his finger like he's telling you off while standing on a soapbox. One megaphone is even attached to a remote controlled car which revolves round the bottom of the pole jeering insults like “get a car” as Staples does a series of mesmerizing stunts on a racing bicycle, such as pulling off a handstand on the handlebars. This is topped off when Lancaster joins him on the bike, standing on bars at the axle of the wheels and leaning out while Yates manages to hold her with one hand whilst continuing to cycle the bike at 45 degrees.

The recorded music is an atmospheric mix of strange low-fi electronic droning and scraping noises, which infuse the show with a dark, ominous atmosphere, while distorted circus music and sped up accordion sounds create the effect of a rusty carousel. When Yates shimmies up the pole upside down using only his hands, a record being scratched is cued in time with every shuffle adding a humorous touch. In one bizarre scene, Lancaster stands topless with a bunny rabbit’s hat on and plays two strings on the bass guitar, building the tension as Yates somersaults backwards, catching his feet on a cradle of rope behind him, which he hangs upside down from.

Propaganda really succeeds in combining a social message with humour in a variety of inventive and imaginative ways. Yates at one point pretends to be asleep on a sagging tightrope as if it were a hammock while his son plays a lullaby. He gets up and sleep walks to the end of the rope where his wife hands him orange juice, then cereal and then milk which he ludicrously manages to pour all over himself as his arms flail in all directions  as he attempts to keep his balance, walking back and  forth along the narrow rope. He even manages to put a pair of trousers on, shirt, tie and blazer as if preparing for work and just when you thought he would have to get off the rope, his wife hands him a briefcase that another rope unwinds from which he follows along the ground when he gets off the tightrope. The stunt manages to combine the slapstick comedy of a clown with the great technical skill of an acrobat. By interpreting the proverb “the tightrope of life” literally, the stunt allows us to see the ridiculous nature of the pressure of conformism as we try and maintain a semblance of balance in the face of the absurdity of existence.

Yates wears boxers for most of the performance, while Lancaster appears topless for most of the show with tights, and both wear heavy duty black boots. In their boots and underwear, they look like an odd couple, but their lack of clothes is in keeping with the simple, anti-consumerist message of the night. Lancaster's toplessness is a statement of equality - men are able to go bare-chested, yet Western society deems it unfit for women, as breasts are sexually objectified rather than being seen as natural. Being topless actually intensifies her role as a mother and it is particularly powerful in a scene where she dons an apron round her waist and spoons up notes and coins into a bowl which she serves to her husband who makes the madcap aside, “You can't eat money!”

Though the set remains fairly sparse, with the acrobatics revolving around the central pole, a few elaborate contraptions are brought on stage, all of which contribute to the ethos of the shows' home- made ethic. In one scene Yates carries in one hand a sack with $ printed on it and with the other hand he pulls on a lever which is attached to a mechanism that has a boot at the end of it, this in turn kicks the backside of their technician who crawls along on all fours. It is a simple idea, performed in an original and amusing way.

At another point Yates saws a piece of wood in half which he places under a plank to make a see- saw; he stands on one end of the see-saw with the word “effect” on a placard around his neck while above the other end, a large sack with the word “cause” hangs from a system of pulleys. The sack is dropped and Yates gracefully flies up into the air and lands on a large cushion behind him. Their literalizing of ideas and phrases is always underlined by a unique sense of humour.

One of the most poignant moments of the show has to be when Fidel is hoisted up on the pulley system with wings made from Hessian rising behind him. As he dangles, spinning in  the cavernous space of the Roundhouse, he reveals a sequence of white placards with  phrases written in black marker such as “turn the other cheek” “go barefoot” “hug a tree” “hug a logger” while a soundtrack of chimes and sheep bleating play in the background. The helplessness of a six year old boy dangling there with these signs of simple, warm hearted sentiments create a very touching, honest moment.

Clocking in at only one hour, Propaganda is a tender, quietly inspiring spectacle that always retains a sense of absurdist humour. Capitalist society is entertainingly mocked, in a way that exposes the money orientated society that we conform to and offers us suggestions on how to live a less material, more organic, ethical way of life. The acrobatics are highly impressive and done in such an understated way that you never feel that they are showing off, but more that their movement is an expression of what the human body is capable of achieving. Their use of simple props such as ropes, pulleys and a bicycle demonstrates that stunts are possible with the most everyday objects and the fact that their children partake shows that it is not always necessary to rely on a large cast of acrobats performing death defying stunts to have the crowd on the edge of their seats. The whole family should be commended for creating such an imaginative and entertaining show, which combines down to earth practicality, with incredible acrobatics to convey a thought provoking message.




Chalk Farm Road
London NW1 8EH Box Office

T 0844 482 8008

Main Space 
Stalls £25
Rear stalls £20
(seats in the rear stalls may be subject to restricted view)
Concessions and preview (13 May) £2.50 off
Under 16s £15




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