My heart sinks, slightly, in the first three minutes of No Show, midway through a slightly hammy tumbling routine, all coquettish grins and naff splits. But it's a ruse – a performance which gathers up all our expectations about female circus performers, and flips them back out at us.
Director Ellie Dubois and her team of five awesome women make real theatre out of these expectations, and present an alternative frame for how we could appreciate women perfoming circus. In a running 'joke' based around the canes, for instance, they forcibly shift our gaze from beauty to strength, but insodoing create an artistic whole that goes beyond just skills and attributes.
There are moments where, dramatically, they come unbalanced. The long pause becomes a somewhat overused device which, while apt at certain points, starts to feel like a gap filler. Some routines could easily be edited out, as they don't well support the overall narrative arc. A mime through of a non-existent trapeeze act, for instance, feels like a solution to a problem rather than an artistic necessity. Elsewhere, a quick sword swallow adds little and breaks the spell. That's not the case of all of the less showy sequences. A daft cartwheel record attempt, in its pursuit of genuine physical exhaustion, shows just how superhuman yet human these performers are.
Criticisms aside, Lisa Chudalla's later Cyr wheel sequences forgive all. In a sense, they sum up everything that No Show is trying, and largely succeeding, to say. There's hyperbolic showmanship, a sense of real danger, strength and beauty, hints of exploitation and sexism, as well as evident pride and dignity. It's all there, held in apparently impossible balance by flesh and blood within the confines of a heavy, spinning steel wheel.