They’re not like any other family, but in a way perhaps they are. The Hogwallops are a constantly squabbling selection of characters. Their home is a curious place, which bears more resemblance to a playground than a normal house. Even the simplest of tasks are undertaken with extravagant acrobatic zeal. This imaginary situation is not so removed from that of the average ensemble circus company. Living and working together can create close bonds between performers, but also forces them to recognise each other’s foibles. “It has its moments, just like any family. You get the good, the bad and the ugly,” Lost in Translation’s Annabel Carberry tells me. “But that means you’re much closer and understand each other much better. Over time it makes working together easier. You have to go through that process.” The Hogwallops is the realisation of this company’s mission to combine circus with theatre, placing emotion, meaning and narrative at the heart of their acrobatic spectacle.
Originally formed as a duo, their name emanates from the effects of founder Massimiliano Rossetti and his partner’s differing native languages. As the company expanded into an ensemble as did the cultural, language and disciplinary differences. “We’ve been working together for quite a long time, so we understand each other quite well.” In terms of what they present to the audience, their brand of circus offers physical language that can be understood universally.
Commissioned by Blackpool’s Showzam Festival in 2014, The Hogswallops is a colourful, loud and funny series of domestic adventures. They drew inspiration from Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Ettore Scola’s Brutti, Sporchi e Cattivi in which both feature ridiculous characters navigating a chaotic home-life. The show’s misfits offer up a heart-stopping collection of aerial and floor acrobatics. Just like any family they are often annoyed by each other, but ultimately linked by a strong bond. The line-up between fantasy and reality may have been a little blurred by the show’s development. “At that time we were living and working together in the winter in Great Yarmouth. It was quite a tough situation. So we were creating a similar situation in our work without realising it.” Onstage and above it, the contents of an extraordinary family home are subverted, stolen away from intended purposes to form props for incredible feats. A washing line becomes a tightrope, a walking frame is a trapeze, a child makes a splendid skipping rope, and a banana… Well, the banana has its part to play.
Primarily a story about familial relationships The Hogwallops is intricately layered, yet can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Bolstered by an original live score, it’s fun, quirky and exhilarating, with the action occasionally drifting into the surreal. It’s been revised and evolved over the last few years, refining the amount of detail in the narrative. Carberry admits that integrating theatre into a highly technical circus is a challenging process. For a start, development time is greatly increased. “It can be tricky for the performers that come from a circus background. They are very different art forms, with very different priorities. There are even different mental states when you’re performing.” Lost in Translation’s shows have an undeniable communal feel. As well as performing together, the company often stay together during rehearsals at their house in Norwich. Rather than a disparate assortment of different feats, they’ve created a work that binds their performance together with a compelling narrative. With vivid characters, slapstick and even a little magic, it’s absurd and mesmerising.
So now this frenetic circus spectacular is coming to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre, as part of a summer circus programme. “We went to do the site visit and they were really enthusiastic. So we’re really looking forwards to go there.” Seasons like this are another recognition of how the UK’s circus scene is gaining momentum. Now reaching a level comparable with other art forms, shows like The Hogwallops continue to push for widespread artistic acceptance. By mixing theatre, comedy and domesticity with leading-edge circus skills, Lost in Translation are at the forefront of a new wave of companies examining how the form can be developed and presented. “Circus has still got such a long way to go in terms of boundaries. There’s still a lot to be explored in how the body can be used and offer expression.”
The Hogwallops comes to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Fri 8 – Sat 9 July.