REVIEW: Lighthouse – Hazel Lam, presented by Chinese Arts Now (Jacksons Lane)

Plastic is everywhere at the moment. Not only are we physically surrounded by the stuff, but its environmental impact is very much at the forefront of our collective consciousness. Consequently, it’s creeping into everything from primary school projects to contemporary circus performances. And so last night Mummy found herself clutching a plastic cup of prosecco as she watched Hazel Lam’s Lighthouse, a multidisciplinary work that explores the themes of being consumed by plastic and your own desires.

In this daring piece of work, which fuses circus skills, dance and object theatre, Lam uses PVC plastic tubes as props, a partner and (most impressively) aerial apparatus. Her aim is to highlight the power of gentleness and feminine movement qualities, as she questions her relationship with her inanimate co-star. The result is a thought-provoking and powerful piece of work which clearly achieves its objective, whilst also showing off Lam’s extraordinary physical skills.

It is brave from the beginning. With the lights down and no music playing, the sole focus is a pair of glowing boots. As Lam taps and shuffles her way around the stage, the only sounds are those made by her feet on the floor. It’s curious and sets the tone for the rest of the performance, which is unafraid to challenge its audience.

As the lights go on, the shoes go off, and she pulls a piece of plastic tubing from the ceiling. Exploring the tubing like a curious child, Lam twists it in her hands and around the floor. It’s gentle and playful at first, Lam taking her time as the audience watches in anticipation. Then suddenly she’s struggling under a mass of plastic tubing, falling to the floor again and again as the weight of the plastic overwhelms her.

The clowning segments are interspersed between the impressive aerial work that takes place upon more plastic tubes suspended from the ceiling. Again, it starts slowly. Lam is not afraid to make her audience wait. She begins by testing the strength of the plastic, leaning her whole body against it. Can she trust it? Will it hold her? Will it bend to her will or snap in her hands? Soon she is ascending the strands as if they are silks, then suspended in mid air she continues to explore her environment. Far from the spectacle of conventional circus, it’s not showy or loud, with the death-defying aerial tricks very much secondary to the storytelling. Lam has the audience mesmerised throughout, thought it’s not an easy watch. One moment her movements are fluid, the next jerky and disturbing. Sometimes she is accompanied by silence, sometimes by a watery soundtrack that gives a new dimension to her floating movements, surrounded by plastic.

It ends, as it begins, on the floor. And as Lam wrestles once more with the substance that has intrigued and inspired her, it begins to overwhelm her.

Lighthouse is a very different piece of work which encourages its audience to think, instead of simply sitting back and enjoying the spectacle. The clowning doesn’t quite have the same impact as the aerial work, though this is in part due to the difficulty in seeing Lam’s feet from anywhere other than the front. But the juxtaposition of the two different disciplines of circus, together with elements of dance, keeps the audience engaged in what could otherwise feel like quite a long piece (running at around 50 minutes). After an initial stunned silence, the sustained ovation that rippled around the auditorium last night spoke volumes.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things)