Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Mill, Linbury Studio

Review: The Mill, Linbury Studio

Published on Culture Wars, 28.01.2010

You expect a certain showy bravado of circus, as if half the performance is about showing off specialist skills. Shouldn’t it look easy? Shouldn’t it boggle and bemuse, leave you slack-jawed in appreciative awe and rouse impulsive, impressed applause?

Well, no – not if it’s the work of Ockham’s Razor. For the celebrated British aerial troupe, circus is vocabulary that must be put to a purpose rather than displayed for its own sake and self-indulgence. Accordingly, for their first full-length work, they have eschewed glossy grace and flourishing finishes for something more honest and thought-provoking: graft.

The specially designed contraption at the heart of The Mill couldn’t be more suited to their chosen theme of work. It is, basically, an oversized Hamster’s wheel (affectionately referred to as ‘The Tumble Drier’) that serves as the central motor for a giant system of pulleys, ropes and human cogs. In order to keep the whole intricate mechanism whirring, a performer must, in turn, power its rotations from within by hauling its frame into action and running on the spot. Ease is replaced with a calm efficiency.

But to what end? The machine itself serves an unseen purpose – perhaps, even no purpose at all – and yet on and on the four uniformed workers toil in their respective responsibilities, driven on by the absent voice of a drill sergeant-like loudspeaker. Until, that is, an intrigued outsider bursts in and upsets the carefully regimented routine, running amok as if a child on a climbing frame.

What Ockham’s Razor manage is to beautify the tedious and arduous without dissolving those qualities. Their movements retain the muscular exertion of manual labour and, with repetition, harness the monotony of work. Accompanied by Derek Nisbet’s score, which pinpointedly captures the honesty and satisfaction of a day’s work, they tumble to fill the time spent in production maintaining a very human playfulness that marks a refusal to be browbeaten by one’s vocation. They may be a uniformed unit, but each staunchly remains his own man.

Of course, by the time we get onto the balance of life, the snugness of performance style and content really comes to the fore. However, though never expressly stated, The Mill’s themes presented are always a little too close to the surface. The mind map quality that promotes breadth over depth leaves everything too readily legible and even, at times, predictable. The paradox is that we are watching work as leisure and, soothing though it may be to watch, The Mill demands too little of us. Like an overly helpful guest, it is neat, tidy and excellent company, but insists on doing all the hard work for you.

Photograph: Ockham’s Razor

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