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Review of HYENA by Alula at the Underbelly Festival

HyenaAlula consists of three female performers – Fiona Thornhill, Jessica Ladley and Lil Rice – who in their show HYENA do spectacularly crazy things with hoops. For the uninitiated (which included me before this show) the Cyr wheel is a large metal hoop that is used by these circus performers to swirl and twirl, spin and twist, dip and flip, to gyrate, to rotate and to pirouette with extraordinarily controlled acrobatic grace without ever, apparently, getting dizzy, giddy or totally discombobulated. Frankly, it made me woozy just watching them!

This Jackson’s Lane production, with its pulsating mood-music, stroboscopic and coloured lighting and circus tent venue, marks out this trio of elastic-limbed ladies as a troupe of highly accomplished Cyr wheel practitioners and their dazzling athleticism and minutely choreographed interplay – three hoops spinning at once or three performers rotating in one hoop together – is a breathtaking fusion of circus, dance and atmospheric effects.

It’s a kind of hoop-la-la-land and the Spiegeltent, a mobile venue I first encountered at the Edinburgh Fringe, provides the audience with the authentic circus feel. We were slightly concerned, though, as a violent squall broke over the South Bank, that the roof might actually be blown away.

Instead, the audience was blown away by the sheer, audacious gymnasticity of these highly skilled stunt-tumblers. I wasn’t in one of the Underbelly Festival’s “Sirloin seats” (beat the queues for an extra five quid) but my one small beef about Hyena is that the company’s belief that the extraordinary circus skills on their own are not enough. Thus we had a series of hiatuses where the action consisted of moving around the performance area enunciating the word “Ready” multiple times (believe me, we were well ready by the time that elongated sequence came to an end); sitting down platting each others hair in silence (I thought that was the preserve of music festivals); and taking an excruciating amount of time to put on each others’ slip-on shoes for the big finale. These largely irrelevant and inconsequential activities were part of the dance drama narrative of female empowerment that, to my mind, was an unnecessary adjunct to – and diversion from – a spellbinding show. Whilst the apparently formidable task of trying to get the owner’s shoe onto the owner’s foot was in progress I was mildly distracted by the thought that perhaps the show is a metaphor for the election: much frantic rushing around, mind-bogglingly precipitous balancing acts, random words blurted out without any coherent meaning and huge amounts of spin. My mind wandered to an image of a scantily-clad Theresa May striding through fields of wheat pursued by Jeremy Corbyn on a pogo stick. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right: but being stuck in the middle of a large hoop watching these three mesmeric performers would be a decidedly more preferable state to being constantly harangued on how to vote, I would suggest.

It’s a vibrant and interesting show: well worth a watch and the Underbelly Festival at the Wonderground, with its bars and food trucks is a Summer season must – especially when the weather’s good. By the way – there’s Pimms.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

This summer Jacksons Lane presents HYENA, the electrifying new show by the world’s only all-female Cyr wheel trio, at the Underbelly Festival on London’s South Bank.

Marrying precision and poignancy, Alula Cyr’s debut production celebrates female strength with awe-inspiring acrobatics and synchronised displays of sisterhood. HYENA is a unique and profound experience that illuminates the thrill of physical ritual and the heart-wrenching need to belong.

The title HYENA alludes to the uniquely female-dominated social system of brown spotted hyenas, a reference point for the fierce and complex friendships formed between women which the show explores. Patterns of conflict and resolution in the show draw from the trio’s own tribal solidarity and fierce friendship, formed as they trained together at the National Centre for Circus Arts.

HYENA by Alula: Underbelly Festival Debut from World’s First All-Female Cyr Wheel Trio
Tuesday 6 – Sunday 11 June 2017
Tue–Fri 7.45pm; Sat–Sun 7.30pm
Underbelly Festival, South Bank


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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