The beauty of Berlin-based agency Aurora Nova's Fringe programme is that it leads you straight to the kind of material you don’t know you’ve been craving until you finally get to see it.
Top pick is Kraken [★★★★★], an utterly ridiculous, indulgently hilarious one-man physical comedy show from Gaulier-trained clown Trygve Wakenshaw. The New Zealander combines extravagant mime, a talent for understanding his audience and a complete lack of shame to create material that is gross, disturbing and surprisingly adorable – and of course the side-splitting laughter never stops. You never know what he’s going to do next, making the surreal, unstructured format of his show perfect for his outrageous and unique performance style.
Antiwords [★★★★☆] from Spitfire Company brings a healthy dosage of the absurd. In an hour-long session of heavy drinking, two women don strange but beautiful head masks and, using a combination of ingenious physical comedy, surreal voiceover loops and a minimalist set, create dazzlingly sharp satire that is at turns funny, bewildering and heart-breaking. Based on the work of Czech playwright and politician Václev Havel, no prior knowledge of the historical or social background is necessary to fully appreciate its raw power, and the compelling humanity at its heart is impossible to remain unmoved by.
Czech circus virtuosos Cirk La Putyka present a nightmarish tour de force with Dolls [★★★☆☆]. The music, lighting and set could have come straight out of a horror film, and are made all the more terrifying by the relentless aggression of the routines as the performers use fast and furious acrobatics and aerial stunts to capture the violence of human desire and the darkness that can exist within relationships. The narrative is confusing at best, with plot and characters getting lost in the relentless pace of the show, but the production deserves credit for its ambition alone.
In B-Orders [★★★☆☆] from Palestinian Circus, two performers use challenging but engaging experimental dance, aerial silk and Chinese pole routines to represent the struggle against the strict codes, rules and borders that dominate Palestinian society. The personal reflections through projected text and voiceovers work well, as does the creative use of wooden building blocks to signify the barriers we find ourselves confronted with, but overall the theme feels underdeveloped and as such the conventional path the show follows is slow-paced and underwhelming.
Familie Flöz offer something more light-hearted with Hotel Paradiso [★★★★☆]. These German masters of masked theatre create vivid caricatures of the kind of eccentric personalities you could only expect to find in a dodgy, run-down hotel. Both the slapstick and the black humour are irresistibly funny, and the show rollicks along at a laugh-a-minute pace. Some of the finer details of the plot are a little confusing, and not every joke is clear, but all in all Hotel Paradiso is refreshing and out of the ordinary.
Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental’s Thaddeus Phillips brings to the stage a wealth of remarkable stories from 15 years of travelling the world in 17 Border Crossings [★★★☆☆]. His talent for creative and innovative staging is evident – using just a few simple props and his own magnetic stage presence, he convincingly recreates all manner of environments from a Communist-era train to a tribal hut in the Amazon, in a well-paced exploration of the arbitrary nature of international borders. 17 Border Crossings is made less effective by an ‘American idiot abroad’ vibe, and there’s perhaps a lack of critical and self-awareness behind its mockery of other cultures that makes an otherwise interesting concept more shallow than it deserves to be.
Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion [★★★★☆] is an artistic experience quite unlike any other. Gerling has spent over ten years creating flip books – simple photographic portraits of people and places encountered on his travels through Germany, that come to life to create miniature moving pictures. With the perfect balance of sincerity and humour, Gerling presents his humble but mesmerising work, using a flair for storytelling to delve into the fascinating histories behind some of his most remarkable pieces. His enthusiasm is infectious, to the point where everyone in the room is equally infatuated with the extraordinarily power of the flip-book.