The story of a relationship - with a circus twist Helena Fox

Oliver is in a comfortable and happy relationship with Heather, but when the mysterious and seductive Anna comes along, a love triangle emerges between the three. Anna, directed and choreographed by Sharla Petterson, is a circus adaptation of an original play, and explores some important and relevant themes on the topic of mental health. As an idea on paper, Anna has a lot of potential, but for a number of reasons, sadly fails to live up to it. 

"hopefully throughout the week they will grow to be more comfortable in their roles"

The show was structured very oddly, with very short, clunky pieces of dialogue interspersed with long pop songs, sung by the actors, and accompanied by a mixture of circus skills and choreography. Because of how brief the fragments of dialogue were, and how little they revealed of the story arc, the audience was confused about what was happening on stage for the majority of the play. The acting scenes themselves came across as awkward and a little awkward. Louise Harris as Anna and Charlotte Horner as Heather performed well in their roles, but neither had much visible chemistry with Gill, making the intimate couple scenes uncomfortable to watch. Hopefully throughout the week they will grow to be more comfortable in their roles.

Although all those who sung had lovely voices, the songs also started to feel overly long and purposeless very quickly. They did not add to the plot, nor did they give the characters any depth. It was also a questionable directorial decision to make the ensemble approach individual audience members and sing directly to them, having little effect except to confuse the audience further. The circus aspect to the production was more successful than the singing and the acting, with really impressive performances involving a baton and a hoop, and well-performed, thoughtfully choreographed dances. But crucially, they also did nothing to add to the story, making these talented performers feel like an unnecessary gimmick.

Anna’s strengths lay in its aesthetic value. Skilful use of coloured lighting and minimalistic set combined with the pop music created the feel of a cabaret or an underground club, effective in combination with the circus performances. Costumes were simple but worked well; the symbolism of Heather’s flowing white dress against Anna’s red lacy bustier was aesthetically pleasing, albeit slightly crude. The highlight of Anna could arguably be Petterson herself. She is clearly a very skilled circus performer and dancer, and as Anna’s circus counterpart she commands the stage. Her duet with Oliver’s circus counterpart stands out in this otherwise flat play, and it is certainly impressive how much of herself she has dedicated to the production as writer, director, choreographer and also performer.

"Anna’s strengths lay in its aesthetic value"

There is a turning point near the end of this performance – a twist – revealing Oliver’s carefully guarded secret, which I’m going to refrain from revealing. This section, comprising of the last few minutes of the play, is done surprisingly well. The immediate post-revelation choreography, consisting of some understated lifts and tense physical interaction between Anna and Heather, is not overplayed, and enriches the moment rather than overshadowing it. However, the main reason for its success is that the choreography actually advances the plot, in contrast to every other piece of choreography in the show. This final piece of physical theatre is almost worth the preceding hour of confusion – but not quite. Even the twist itself is crass. Anna simplifies what is such an important and complicated issue into a straightforward battle of the conscience between the angel sitting on your left shoulder and the devil on your right, and I think this is a dangerous message to be giving.


Mountain View

My first experience of Cambridge theatre

This concept had real potential, but its fatal flaw was that it tried to do far too much and in doing so lost grip on the subject it was trying to explore. If Petterson had chosen to focus on fewer elements and told the story through only one medium – either circus performance or acting – it would have been far easier for her to make the point that she intended to make. Instead, the audience is left with underdeveloped characters and amazing but irrelevant acrobatics, followed by a few minutes of ‘Oh. Is that it?’ Crucially, the lack of clarity and nuance throughout means that Anna, unfortunately, fails to deliver any kind of meaningful message about the topic it is trying to handle.