Review: Limits, Southbank Centre

Ah, the circus. A melting pot of obscure, at times inexplicable yet utterly compelling talents and abilities that never fail to elicit childlike delight. Limits, the latest production by Scandinavian circus group Cirkus Cirkor, adds a sophisticated and fiercely political dimension to the acrobatics, gymnastics and trickery, creating a piece that pushes physical and emotional boundaries.

Limits is a beautifully executed production that confronts migration, border crises and the tragedy of displacement in a tasteful and wholly unexpected fashion. Using their physical strength, balance, movement, and trust to create an emotional response to the migrant crisis, the performance is rife with evocative imagery and symbolism. Pretentious though that could sound, in tandem with the cast’s formidable talent and understated script it really works.

We open on the scene of a young girl (Saara Ahola) crossing the border from Finland to Sweden. Amid an ethereal set of undulating silky sheets that imitate the waves, she heads towards the horizon musing on the arbitrary nature of borders delineated by oceans. As her haunting voiceover narrates, ‘how can a border be drawn in something that is constantly moving’?

The piece then turns to a heavily stylised interpretation of crossing borders using a tall iron gate. Silhouetted against the back wall, the grate takes on the appearance of a cage as each member of the cast takes turns to ascend and hop over in the first display of their truly awe-inspiring strength. I must admit at this point I felt just a touch concerned; the sequence is slightly repetitive, and while technically challenging, didn’t seem theatrical enough to meet my (probably overblown) expectations. However, the tricks become ever more impressive as the night goes on, and are remarkably diverse: from trampolining to trapezing to a breathtakingly tense see-saw, the performers showcase talents I didn’t know existed in an ever-evolving, dynamic set.

The second act starts with a piece by the frontman of the group Peter Åberg, who, oozing viking charm and charisma, explains to the audience how easy it is to solve a Rubik’s cubes while blindfolded.  Spoiler alert: it is not easy.  He begins by informing a silent crowd that each colour is assigned a letter in his mind, and each combination of letters makes a picture which he lines up in a story he tells himself.  By the time he is finished weaving a story about the difficulties refugees face as they escape their homes, it isn’t clear whether we should be sobbing, applauding the solved cube, or rushing the stage to take the young man back to our homes.  

Poignant and full of pleasant surprises, this dynamic piece is running at the Southbank Centre until the 16th August before embarking on a European tour until February next year. If you are able to catch it, I would highly recommend doing so; I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Limits by Cirkus Cirkor played at the Southbank Centre until August 16 and is touring Europe until February 2018.