April saw the world premiere of Puffball at The Roundhouse, Camden. Puffball takes contemporary circus in one hand and performance art in the other, telling a deeply moving collection of stories through spoken word, fire-breathing, aerial work, and beautiful music.
The show is a collaboration between artist Mark Storor and a group of brilliant performers from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, all of whom identify in some way as LGBTQ. While creating the project, each performer was encouraged to bring their deeply personal, sometimes painful and conflicted experiences about identity, love and relationships.
Puffball isn’t afraid to be confusing and messy. The show begins with a performer suspended in mid-air gnawing his way out of a clingfilm cocoon, releasing not only his limbs but mysterious red gobbets which pour onto the stage below. In the background Gabi Frödén sings thoughtful blues with soft, sparsely layered accompaniment.
… The live score is unexpectedly gorgeous–I found myself humming the melodies days later …
Instead of an overarching story, Puffball has narrative fragments told through the body and framed by music. The live score is unexpectedly gorgeous–I found myself humming the melodies days later. Composed by Jules Maxwell and performed by Casual Horn Stars, the music shapes the scenes on the stage: there’s playful commentary (‘It’s only strawberry jelly…’), songs about the journey of love, glossolalia accompanied by drones, and more.
Each performer has a moment on stage to show their unique qualities and their struggles. There’s a high moment when an androgynous performer commands the audience to look at them and acknowledge the truth of their embodied identity. They exit triumphantly carried on someone’s shoulders. A beat later, two masculine performers dash across the stage in heels: one of them’s wearing a pair of shoes which are literally on fire while the other totters behind, not quite sure what to do. It’s intense and hilarious.
… A few acts later they’re together in bed …
Some characters’ stories revolve around relationships. A man jumps on a trampoline, looks up to see if he’s impressed another man perched above him. The trampolinist builds up to complex flips, occasionally pausing in his performance to look at the man he wants. He crosses his legs and returns the trampolinist’s gaze, nothing more. A few acts later they’re together in bed. The trampolinist performs celebratory jumps.
It’s delightful stuff, and you get the impression that everyone is having an incredible amount of fun. Props like suspended mattresses and baths are used throughout by all the characters, emphasizing the fact of our common experience: we all wash, sleep, get our hearts broken, and fall in love.
… Puffball visibly celebrates all kinds of bodies, gender identities, and sexualities, it also shows a darker side …
As the stories are drawn from each performer’s experiences, the material is also undeniably specific and personal. While Puffball visibly celebrates all kinds of bodies, gender identities, and sexualities, it also shows a darker side: LGBTQ people still face the pain of rejection from their friends and families if they come out, and are still harmed by systemic discrimination if they turn to society at large for support.
Puffball unflinchingly represents the real and raw; there are no easy platitudes to erase the pain that’s taken place, but it shows that people can actively make things better by reaching out to others.
One of the oddest and most wonderful things I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.
Puffball is touring the UK. Their next stop is Manchester.
08 June 2014 – 09 June 2014
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Tickets & information