Haunting and Comical, Jess Love Uses Circus and Grey Underwear to Explore The Nature Of Girlhood

There really are very few places I like as much as London’s South Bank on a long summer evening. So, it is only natural that this week, once I entered the area of the Underbelly Festival, I couldn’t possibly think of leaving without a drink or a little dance – and of course a show! 

The festival, which presents comedy, circus, and family entertainment, is host to a 60-minute circus show until Sunday called “And the Little One Said…”, performed by Australian circus artist Jess Love. “Love is the drug” are the producers of this one-woman show presenting elements of circus and physical theatre in the Spiegeltent, a classically designed circus tent that instantly takes you into another world. The show itself presents morbid and surprising elements.  

Would it be right to say that people are quite fascinated with vintage circus shows, with its clowns and cabaret? The fascination may be with its nomad aspect, a company moving to a new town every day with nothing but their performance and the clothes on their backs – the essence of the original performer. 

This show, directed by Stephen Burton, fills a macabre playground replete with hopscotch, blood spatter, roller skates and broken glass in this visually enchanting, funny, and surreal show about the mixing of the innocent and the sinister. Indeed, Jess’s pink costume and rosy cheeks contrast strongly with her stories about money problems and the grey underwear she is waiting to show us.

Australian born Jess Love is a founding member of the multi-award-winning circus company The Candy Butchers. In 2004, she was given an honourable mention at the Melbourne Fringe Awards for Best Female Performer for her work in their debut show A Circus Sweetmeat. In 2013 Jess was part of the London line up of the La Soiree season which was awarded an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. 

 This is for adults who are willing to be startled and laugh at the same time

Jess has toured internationally with companies including La Clique, Circus Oz, Circa, Duckie and The Burlesque Hour. Her first solo show ‘And The Little One said…’ premiered at the Melbourne Fringe in 2009, winning the Circus Australia Award and runner up for Best Circus Show. In 2010, it was nominated for Best Circus Show at the Adelaide Fringe. Jess was awarded a London Cabaret award for Best Circus Act in 2014. She is based in London and is currently touring her new solo circus theatre show Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl which debuted in the Melbourne Fringe 2016 winning Original New Circus award and earlier this year won the Best Circus and Physical Theatre award in the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Jess appears to us in her red hair and pig tails, wearing a pink little girl’s dress. Soon enough, the skirt is off, and she shows off her specialties: she starts with one or two hula-hoops and finishes with what looks like 20 hoops overwhelming her body; she also purposefully tumbles in awkward ways, highlighting her character’s still growing body; her jump rope skips are mesmerising thanks to her control and she clownishly falls over in roller skates. 

The descent into macabre sideshow, while remaining a baby-doll show, hints that danger is looming and she may not remain a child for too long. Indeed, the show commences and ends with the element of the nails, which may appear to be a random object at first. Only, later, Jess steps and lies on them, enjoying her pain, and perhaps burying the shock of knowing she is lucky while other girls who look just like her may be ‘kidnapped by tall strangers’. 

This is not purely a circus act as is announced, amongst other things, by Ennio Morricone music. The fact that Jess is clearly a full-grown woman introduces the dark reality that can happen to children who look older than their age and may attract adults they should never trust. This is brought up by Jess in one of her rare monologues. She starts the show by uttering only sounds and by being highly expressive with her face, which later gives her spoken words that much more weight. 

The show ends with her emptying a bucket of long nails onto the floor, taking off her protective clothes and walking and lying on a sea of nails. The pain is there, but the pleasure also.

The programme warns this is not for children under 13. It is certainly a piece of circus art for adults, with traces of macabre and even a slightly absurd middle sequence that serves as a fake intermission. The taste for circus never leaves this girl who needs to face the world on her own. This is for adults who are willing to be startled and laugh at the same time.

 

Overall, this is a comical and haunting circus event with a starring artist stuck in between girlhood and emerging womanhood.

 

And the Little one said… is at the Underbelly Festival until Sunday June 18th.

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