Lexicon circus review (Melbourne Festival)

By Fiona Blair with Lorenzo Palazzolo

Infused with all the qualities of a waking dream, Lexicon by NoFit State is, by turns, breathtaking and exhilarating; a complete delight.

I’ve borrowed an eleven year old (Lorenzo) for this occasion, and, thanks to a massive miscalculation in the expeditionary planning that had gone into our day thus far(!), he hasn’t really eaten since midday.

We’ve schlepped into town, checked out 1000 Doors (he’s an aficionado of The Shining, and there are plenty of places in that piece for “he-e-e-ere’s Johnny!” moments, though we reckon it would be even more fun after dark), downed a cup of tea (he’s a tannin man), and walked back past several dispensers of street food; one purporting to offer calamari (Spanish), another smoothies, another wraps, another chips – all of which had been open on our outward journey, all of which were now closed.

It’s getting dark.

There’s something that feels illicit about attending a show like this.

There’s the framing of the event: the walk through the Botanic Gardens after nightfall, the sudden scuttle of a possum, the glow of festoon lighting as you discover the venue. Then the venue itself; the tent – a gorgeous maroon affair that lights red in the interior – where no tent was before.

By now the sheer magic of our arrival at the site has completely distracted Lorenzo from his lack of dinner. (Sheer magic and the box of – possibly stale – Savoury Shapes we’ve just found in the back of the car.)

If your inner child weren’t wide-eyed with wonder and excitement by now, it’s probably past its bedtime.

It’s magical.

In so far as the title defines the experience of the show (it doesn’t really), you get most elements (that don’t involve lions, tigers, elephants horses or livestock of any kind) of a circus miscellany. The whole juggling, spinning, catching, falling spectacle: cyr wheels and cycles, aerials and acrobatics, cycles, diabolos, fire torches and slack wire: a Lexicon (see!) of past expectations and future possibilities. Traditional white faced clowns with bulbous noses and peculiar wigs are absent, but clowning and humour, evolving rather than imposed, are a huge part of the evening.

The show opens with a schoolroom setting where desks, kids and teacher become airborne (Matilda meets Harry Potter) and the kids are outa control.

(L: “I really liked that bit”)

Though the schoolroom theme doesn’t follow through in any prescriptive manner, the idea that everyone is an overgrown school-kid pervades:

The geeky dorky guy (Sam Goodburn), for example, who seems at first to have no particular skills(!) will morph through splitting skateboards to self-destructing cycles, to a unicycle so tall he’ll have to climb a ladder to mount it, to an attempt at cycling across a row of champagne glasses..

There are some stand out performances:

Fabian Galouye is meditative and mesmerising with aerial work and diabolo; Mathieu Hedan performs a brilliant stilts balancing act and Luke Hallgarten’s a funny-scary fire-juggling routine. Lyndall Merry’s trapeze work is heart-in-mouth stuff, his show-off persona ensuring that we feel slightly worried he might.not.make.it.

The women, while as skilled as any of the men (Rosa Autio’s foot juggling and Vilhelmiina Sinervo’s slack rope routines are excellent), lack the kind of instant ‘charisma’ personas the blokes employ, and by interval I was wishing that one of them might perform something a bit more obviously – I dunno – dramatic! Then Rosa-Marie Schmid, effecting a drunken dissolution, performs a knock-out routine on aerial ropes and I find myself wishing I had such an outlet when feeling like shit.

There’s not much in the way of text (a few sound worries at the start were ironed out pretty quickly) and what there is seems a meld of languages, a sort of buoyant circus lingo ‘hoopla!’

I’m a bit perplexed by this as it’s a UK (Wales) company. It looks and sounds – and when I eventually track down the names of the artists (there is no program), is – a very European mob. The performers hail from all over – Germany, France, the UK, Finland, Brazil, Italy – if this is what Brexit aims to end, they really are nuts.

By turns haunting and exciting, the live music throughout is brilliant, ranging from valse musette type carnival-music, through to percussive drumming and close harmony work rich in dissonance. Most of the artists play at some time – percussive drumming, mandolin, harmonium, melodica, guitar. The singing (there’s a sequence where the women appear as sirens, enticing) is superb.

“We are going to give this a good review aren’t we?”, queries Lorenzo sternly.

“I would say so. How would you describe it?”

“I have to think….Exciting. Funny. Scary when that boy was on the trapeze and he was really high up. I knew he wasn’t going to fall, but it was still scary.”

“Yeah. Gorgeously scary. One more”

“Okay. I know – Dazzling! I just had to say an inspirational word.”

“It’s a good one.”

There’s a fluidity to the show that’s striking – rigging and scenic adjustments are almost as beautiful to watch as ‘acts’ – sequences segue one into another, reinforcing the feeling that this is a miraculous place, where to be airborne seems like a birthright.

Lexicon is at the Southern Cross Lawn until October 21

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