A young performance company attempt to stage a complex show, but things quickly begin to go awry for the cast of ‘Flown’. Performers get entangled in their equipment, disagreements break out and ladders fall over. It seems everything is teetering on the brink of disaster.
This award-winning show by Pirates of the Carabina has it roots in circus, but goes far beyond the traditional realm of the big-top. It skilfully blends theatre, music and incredible acrobatic skills in a stunning visual spectacle. After enormous success at 2014’s Brighton Festival, this madcap show returns for the Dome’s Christmas season. “We had a brilliant time in Brighton, so it’s great to be coming back.” Shaena Brandel, Pirates of the Carabina’s co-producer and co-director, tells me.
Brandel’s journey to this point started with the standard dance, gymnastics and drama classes at school. Although she liked the physicality and basic skills it offered, there was too much of a competitive element attached to the learning. At 17 she began a performing arts course, to find most of her fellow students were interested only in reaching Broadway. A visit to Glastonbury saw her happen across a circus company’s dress rehearsal in one of the festival’s many performance spaces. Enrolment in her local circus school opened up a world of creativity. She began working in duets and put in a spell with NoFit State. Then unexpectedly a commission came, to stage a production for Glastonbury. “Once we did the show once, we realised we had to do it again, because we had such a good reaction.” It brought together a troupe of talented acrobats, aerialists, stuntmen and musicians in a collection of jaw-dropping displays. ‘Flown’ was born.
It’s a confident, challenging and astounding show, yet there’s a lingering fear accompanying the spectator throughout. At a casual glance, it’s a health and safety nightmare. It seems catastrophe could strike at any second. “The show was devised by everyone in it. We also have a lovely director, who doesn’t get that involved in the skills but he does put his own twist on it. But ultimately, because it’s devised in such a way, it draws on everyone’s strengths.” With a crew of 13 highly experienced and committed artists, riggers, musicians and technicians from across the world, the company embrace ground-based disciplines and innovative aerial forms. Packed with ambition, there’s also something otherworldly about this highly technical show. As well as the dazzling front of house antics, we get to see the production’s backstage as it all tumbles into disarray.
Since its debut this show has been performed to almost 65,000 people worldwide. In 2013 it won the Total Theatre Award for Physical and Visual Theatre at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year it took a sell-out tour of Wales, performing at the renowned St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, as well as headlining the first ever Gwledd SYRCAS Feast festival in their very own Big Top.
The company have just returned from a from a sell-out tour in Australia, a trip which included massive shows at Brisbane Festival and some challenging circumstances. As if performing nightly to a venue full of 1,700 people wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, one show saw torrential rain leaking through the roof. So putting out buckets became another part of a show which is constantly evolving. “If you set up things as being chaotic, then when real drama happens you can play with it.” Many of the extraordinary routines in ‘Flown’ revolve around very ordinary objects, an ironing board, lampstands, chairs or even a cloud of dust can all be utilised to create something beautiful.
The show has been tweaked for this Brighton run, now detailing the company’s attempts to get the show sorted in time for Christmas. But being ‘Flown’, plenty of mishaps threaten the festivities. “I think it’s really important to keep things really organic. It keeps it fresh for the performers and the audience, getting a real experience rather than something that’s just churned out.” It’s the perfect festive show, full of wonder and beauty it should enliven and amaze even the most cynical of hearts.
As a touring circus company Pirates of the Carabina is smaller than most. The family-like relationship amongst the members plays a big part in their performance as a unit. “We want it to be small enough that we can all sit round a table and have a meal together. We’ll be 14 in total for Brighton, so we’ll have to find a big table!” Thoughts are drifting to what a new production might bring, but there’ll certainly be a very long lead-in time. Brandel admits there’s a considerable pressure on the company to create an equally scintillating spectacle, but much of this comes from their own ranks. “We’re going: ‘oh god, how do we follow this one?’ I think we’ll just have to see. The possibilities are really exciting.”
Pirates of the Carabina’s ‘Flown’ comes to Brighton Dome on Sat 19 – Weds 23 & Sat 26 – Sun 27 Dec.