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Ockham’s Razor cuts a striking figure at London International Mime Festival

Among the 10 overseas companies, 8 British groups and multiple workshops on at the London International Mime Festival (LIMF) lineup, Ockham’s Razor cuts a striking figure. For 2020, the 44th year of London’s annual festival of contemporary visual performance, LIMF has co-commissionedThis Time with the aerial theatre company. Opening the festival at the Shoreditch Town Hall the production focuses on the human condition combining physical theatre, acrobatics and original takes on the traditional trapeze and cradle.  

In what the company describes as a show about time, age and the stories we tell ourselves the exciting project also sees a cast that is truly diverse, weaving the story together with a 360 degree rotating frame, spinning harness cradle and a cloud/trapeze hybrid. In ‘This Time’ characters are seen in doubles, triples and quadruple trapeze folding into one another as they fly through the air on apparatus designed by Ockham Razor’s creative directors Charlotte Mooney and Alex Harvey. This, all done with a broad church of performers spread across the demographic from 13 - 60 and breaking out of the narrowing pool of similar bodies and similar ages that populate contemporary circus.

Ockham Razor’s Joint artistic director Charlotte Mooney takes us through the movements, motivations and methods behind one of LIMF’s most exciting and original shows.

Jayson: Looking through the LIMF schedule Ockham’s Razor stands out as extraordinary, how would you describe ‘This Time’?

Charlotte: Thank you! This Time is a visual theatre show featuring circus and autobiographical storytelling. It's unusual in that it has an intergenerational cast. There are 4 performers : Faith (13), myself and my partner Alex (both 40) and Lee (60).

There are a series of aerial frames which are raised from floor to ceiling, they look like mirrors and doorways; we lift, push and cradle each other around and through these thresholds. In terms of circus it features partner acrobatics, doubles, triples, quadruples trapeze and swinging cradle and these highly physical scenes are intercut with honest stories from our lives.

It’s a show about age and strength and the dynamics between different generations. It's also about our shifting perceptions of ourselves, our expectations versus reality.

Jayson: Would it be fair to say that this looks at the human condition?

Charlotte: Yes! I suppose it does – in as much as it looks at the heart breaking, funny, familiar condition of trying to work out your place in the world only to find that it is constantly shifting.

Jayson: What was the inspiration behind 'This Time'?

Charlotte: Over the last few years Alex and I became increasingly aware that in many of the circus shows we saw, there was a very limited age range, it was a world only populated by people in their 20s and 30s. We thought “wouldn’t it be interesting to make a show with a child and someone in their 60s or 70s?” People’s reaction to the idea was very interesting- most people told us that we couldn’t possibly find a 60 year old or a child that would be capable of what we were asking. We very quickly became aware that society has very fixed ideas about what people are capable of at different ages: both emotionally and physically and we wanted to challenge that.

Also, we had our first baby and, as I think it does for most people, it threw up a load of questions about mortality, family dynamics, control, love, memory, our own parents, identity and so it seemed the right time to delve into some of that.

Jayson: One thing I found really interesting is the aerial equipment you’re using, how would you describe it?

Charlotte: With each Ockham’s Razor show we design new apparatus. In This Time we have this series of rectangular frames.

One is coupled with a loop and the four of us can be on it together performing doubles, triples and quadruples trapeze folding into and around each other.

One, which we call the Jacob's Ladder, slowly rotates through 360 degrees above the stage while we climb, through, around, over it.

And the third acts like a mirror / doorway / threshold. It returns time and again through the piece and is counterweighted so it can be beautifully balanced, thrown and toyed with.

There is also a radical, slightly terrifying thing we have done with a harness - using it as a way to base doubles cradle. So the base is strapped in and the flyer can swing and also rotate 360 degrees around the base but essentially has no piece of equipment to hold on to - only the body of the base. I perform on that, clinging to Alex with all my might.

Jayson: And where did the idea come from, why is it suited to this piece?

Charlotte: We were looking for structures that would enable four people to be in the air together and that also functioned as set – that could represent something in themselves. The frames are great for discovering original circus choreography and they also easily become mirrors, doorways, beds, tombs, windows and thresholds.

In terms of circus being the right medium for this piece. We knew we wanted to make a show about time, age, families and love. We also knew that it was vital that it wasn't sentimental. We have always treated circus as an emotional art form - the trust and reliance and play between people in circus can be deeply affecting and emotional but it's also visceral and so can avoid sentimentality.

In circus people cradle, carry and hold each other, they enable each other to have moments of incredible flight and release but they also contain and limit and control each other’s movement. All these dynamics seemed very pertinent for a show about family dynamics. We also knew it was a show about self reflection and this laid the ground very clearly for the storytelling in the piece.

Jayson: I find when we talk about diversity often age is left out of the conversation, would you say ‘This Time’ has a broad church in that regard?

Charlotte: Yes I think so. In traditional circus it was common to have whole families performing in shows so you would see the full range of human experience and possibility, toddlers and grandparents included. One of the losses of contemporary circus is that as the training has become professionalised the range of performers has narrowed and the vast majority of shows feature similar bodies and similar ages. We thought it would be a radical idea to make a contemporary circus show but with a cast of diverse age and experience. It really opened up the stories we can tell and it’s a very different experience watching such extreme physical performance from a 13 year old and a 60 year old.

Jayson: Watching the trailer I felt I recognised the performers/characters, they weren’t abstract, is that intentional?

Charlotte: Who the performers are shifts at different points in the show. At times we very clearly represent a family: Grandmother, mother, father, daughter. But at other times the 3 female performers are the same person through time. Lee looks back through a mirror to me and I become her 40 year old self and at times Faith becomes my 13 year old self. In one scene, both ideas are at play so Faith is at once my daughter and my 13 year old self. In one scene, Alex (40) becomes an image of Lee's 10 year old son - the amazing magic of that is that although impossible it's completely clear.

Jayson: How important is it for arts organisations like yourself to have partners like LIMF?

Charlotte: It's incredibly important. LIMF have been so supportive of us – we have performed every one of our shows at the festival and have a relationship going back 12 years. In the beginning they were far and away the most high profile performances we did and they gave us the platform to be seen and reviewed by established critics early in our career and really build a reputation. Over time LIMF have gone on to support us as commissioning partners for our last 3 shows. It's vital.

Jayson: It’s great to see chances for audience participation at LIMF, what’s happening at your workshop ‘Drawing Metaphor and Meaning in Circus’?

Charlotte: We have experience teaching a wide array of levels and performers from come and have a go workshops for complete novices to BA and MA courses in devising and directing circus. In all of our teaching we aim to give a genuine experience of our process as a company. Very simply we delve into the movement of circus and use that as a starting point for stories, relationships and theatre. This workshop is aimed at recent graduates or performers starting to make their own work so the focus is on taking the movement you have and playing with the resonances and meaning within it as a starting point for making work.

Jayson: Looking at LIMF schedule what are some of the things you are excited about?

Charlotte: I am very excited about Kiss&Cry 'Cold Blood' as I saw their last show and it was extraordinary.

We also have some friends performing in the festival Joli Vyann's 'Anima', and Told by an Idiot 'The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel' both of which I'm very excited to see.

Jayson: In three words describe the following:

Charlotte: This Time - moving, honest, beautiful
                   Ockham’s Razor - cutting edge circus
                   Alex Harvey - “Ruggedly-cool, sexy, alarmingly-impressive” (he made me write those)
                   I'd say: silly, silly man
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Ockham’s Razor
This Time
Wed 8 - Sun 19 Jan 2020
Shoreditch Town Hall
Info and tickets: mimelondon.com

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