United Kingdom Various composers, Bromance: Barely Methodical Troupe, Platform Theatre, London, 8.1.2015 (J.O’D)
Performers: Beren D’Amico, Louis Gift, Charlie Wheeller
Director: Eddie Kay
Associate Director: Ella Robson Guilfoyle
Lighting Design: Kate Bonney
Stage Manager: Hannah Blamire
Associate Producer: Molly Nicolson
The three members of the recently formed Barely Methodical Troupe met at the National Centre for Circus Arts. Their first work, Bromance (2014), makes use of acting, breakdancing and Bboying that reflects the earlier dance and drama training of its young performers. But it is when their circus skills are deployed that this humorous exploration of masculinity and male friendship crystallises.
‘Our skills naturally introduce ideas around intense trust, support and personal space,’ says a note from the company in the programme handout. Trust is there when the men turn forward and backward somersaults in the air, expecting to be caught by the correctly placed hands of a fellow performer. It is there when one of them falls backwards from a standing position, like a board, in the belief that the others will catch him before he reaches the ground. Trust is not, however, something to be taken for granted. Another of the performers falls flat on his back because the other two happen to be looking in the opposite direction.
Bromance is more than a display of acrobatic stunts. It uses these to illustrate or extend the theme of unity and division between its three performers. Extreme differences in height allow Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico to engage in Hand-to-Hand work (aerial balances, by D’Amico, with hands as the only point of contact between him and his partner). The averagely tall Charlie Wheeller, however, is excluded. He, meanwhile, excels at something called the Cyr Wheel. This large circle of PVC-covered, aluminium tubing is used, when lying flat, to define a performance space. After Louis Gift has shown himself to be less than proficient in manipulating this wheel, Charlie Wheeller uses the laws of physics to make it come alive almost as a fourth performer in the piece. He spins while suspended inside it, sets it spinning around him, and keeps it spinning with a few expertly timed but nonchalant-looking strokes of his hand. When he has finished, the wheel’s very gradual loss of momentum as the three men sit in silence beside it takes on a significance that is hard to explain.
One narrative thread of the piece is the attempt to find a circus act in which all three performers can take part. When they succeed, it forms a ‘without the aid of a safety net’ kind of ending worthy of the circus tent (and one for which the three performers have stripped to their red underpants). Charlie Wheeller, Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico know how to act and how to move as they address the question of physical contact between a ‘bunch of heterosexual men’. Director Eddie Kay creates moments of dramatic tension through a recorded soundtrack, an inventive use of props (origami swans of different sizes represent the ‘manhoods’ of the three performers), and a sparing use of dialogue.
Bromance was chosen to open the London International Mime Festival. There are times, during its sixty minutes, when the tension flags. It may have been a shorter piece when performed as part of a triple-bill at The Place last year. In every other respect, it repays the confidence of the festival organizers.