Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Tipping Point/ Switch

The Companies and Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch
Ockham’s Razor, Contact and Turtle Key Arts
Contact at Upper Campfield Market Hall, Manchester
15 September 2018 to 19 August 2018

 

As part of their ‘In The City’ programme Contact is staging productions at partner venues while their Oxford Road site is renovated. Tonight, however, the re-location seems entirely beneficial - Upper Campfield Market Hall is a massive building offering a daunting sense of height that is simply not available in conventional theatres and is, thus, perfect for an aerial display of acrobatics. The audience is seated circus style around a stage marked out by a series of metallic beams stretching to the faraway ceiling. It is both intimate and remote; drawing the audience close only to remind them they are well away from the main action.

Switch, the first part of tonight’s double bill, was devised by nine young performers along with Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch, the artistic directors of Ockham’s Razor. The piece features elements of circus, dance and object manipulation.

To a rather ominous score, composed and played live by Bellatrix, mixing Darth Vader heavy breathing and pop-pop snapping, the nine dancers, using wooden staffs, Switch from threatening martial movements to more playful activities . The cast may be young but their technique is impressive with striking pyramids and somersaults.

Switch feels young at heart; there is the thrill of experimentation and the joy of learning running throughout. The final scene of the cast gleefully regarding a stage turned into a shambles by their behaviour is a lovely moment of closure.

Tipping Point is the moment at which one can no longer change one’s mind but must proceed and accept the consequences.  The acrobatics featuring five aerialists are full of such moments that leave the audience on the edge of their seats as disaster is averted by the narrowest of margins. 

The piece is structured as a series of challenges between the performers as safety chalk is flung around like gauntlets daring opponents to a duel. The set-up is deceptively simple with just a series of heavy metal poles about 18 feet in length the only props. But such simplicity is possible only because the cast act as living props using their bodies as levers or forming pyramids to enable the stunts to be performed.

Throughout the show danger is mixed with humour – sometimes in the same scene. A routine opening with a performer dicing with death ducking under a spinning pole ends with the rest of the cast clinging to the pole while their colleague runs pell-mell around the stage trying comically to catch up. One cast member balances precariously atop a pole held steady by a colleague using just one hand, one finger or nothing at all.

Although Tipping Point is constructed as a series of confrontations between the cast the predominant mood is that of trust. Cast members walk with eyes closed between poles swinging around the stage like lethal pendulums trusting their colleagues to guide them to safety.

Considering the limited props used the variety achieved in Tipping Point is astonishing. At one point the poles become an abstract labyrinth like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Tipping Point alone is well worth the price of admission but combined with Switch it currently offers the best value in town.

Reviewer: David Cunningham