Review: Lexicon, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Thuy On

Wales-based NoFit State's circus show, Lexicon, opens with ruckus as spit balls are thrown about and the class runs amok.
Review: Lexicon, Melbourne International Arts Festival

NoFit State's circus show Lexicon at Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Beginning with the visually arresting tableau of its performers in old-school wooden desks that suspend in mid-air like Christmas sky sleighs when the teacher (also afloat) leaves the stage, Wales-based NoFit State's circus show, Lexicon, opens with ruckus as spit balls are thrown about and the class runs amok. Throughout the two hour (including interval) session, this energetic collective display alternates with solo and quieter acts, all accompanied by a live band whose music and song are suitably moody and atmospheric. The exterior of the tent is not striped or candy coloured but more sombre and the ensemble is decked out in old fashioned gear (think waistcoats, suspenders, flat caps and full skirts rather than spangled unitards and glitz). However, there’s certainly a degree of good old carnival spirit here, with most traditional circus acts well represented, including juggling, tightrope, aerial acrobatics of ropes and silks, and tumbling and floor work. Fire and shadow play also slyly coax a sense of the dramatic.

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Although there doesn’t seem to be much storytelling flow between acts, which appear standalone rather than a cohesive narrative, Lexicon’s underlying language is one that’s flexible and graceful: no stuttering but a smooth transition from one set piece to the next.

Particularly impressive is the number and permutations of tricked-up bicycles on show, especially the unicycle – and the breath-stopping display of one riding oh-so precariously above a row of upturned glasses towards the end is truly remarkable. But forget all the noise and mayhem, at times it just takes a simple idea performed expertly, to remind you of the high skill level expected of these performers, for instance, a unicyclist who manages to put on a three-piece suit while wobbling about.

NoFit State's circus show Lexicon at Melbourne International Arts Festival.

As seems to be case these days with circuses, most of the cast seems multi-talented, able to tumble, juggle and fly through the air effortlessly as though such individual tricks weren’t hard enough on their own to master. There is clowning around but not in the gauche red-nose and big-shoes caper, rather a playful mischievousness that’s incorporated into certain acts, like the trio messing about, playing one-upmanship on the Cyr wheel and the juggler who sets himself alight with his torches. Also great to see are the appearance of diablos, which are hardly regular features of circuses. But the way they are manipulated here is mesmerizing.

Other concepts, though possibly a good idea on paper, don’t necessarily translate well on stage. There could have been more impact with silhouette and light when a single balancing performer is encased within a black netted gauze and the three Mary Poppins-styled women floating about mid-air with brollies, while beautiful a vision, seem underdeveloped an idea. But these are minor quibbles; on the whole Lexicon is entertaining, moving from fast and furious to slow and balletic and back again, with a pulsing soundtrack supporting this powerhouse of strength and agility.

4 stars ★★★★

Lexicon
NoFit State Circus

Melbourne International Arts Festival
3-21 October 2018
Southern Cross Lawn

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Thuy On is a freelance literary journalist and critic and the books editor of The Big Issue.