The Goblin Market dazzles with its dark circus world

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      Created by Eve Gordon. Directed by Mike Edward. A Dust Palace production, presented by the Cultch. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, October 3. Continues until October 14

      This show is as sleek, polished, and sexy as the succulent fruit that tempts its heroines.

      New Zealand’s Dust Palace has created a circus with a decidedly adult flavour. Based on Christina Rossetti’s poem, The Goblin Market explores sexuality and addiction. It includes only fragments of the poem’s text in favour of image, movement, and music to tell a contemporary version of the story of two sisters. One gives in to the lure of sexuality (symbolized in the poem by goblin men selling fruit) and then wastes away; the other’s steadfast resistance ultimately brings her sister back.

      Urban grit infuses the atmosphere of this show: Rossetti’s riverbank has been updated to a city overpass; the sisters sleep in their car. Performers occasionally shout barely intelligible rants into a mike at the corner of the stage. The music, ranging from moody indie rock to full-throttle noise abrasion, ramps up the intensity. And behind the action are exquisitely atmospheric, old-school projections: jumpy text, scratches, abstract shapes, and colour washes. At times you can even hear the clicking of the reels. The fruit is here too, deployed in ways that continually surprise.

      It’s a hell of a container, but it’s still just the container: the main attraction is the jaw-dropping virtuosity of the three performers, who use a variety of acrobatic techniques to tell the story. Edward Clendon struggles to shed his goblin nature in a riveting aerial silk sequence. Clendon and Rochelle Mangan perform a trapeze duet whose culminating kiss—as he’s suspended from the bar, holding her by the chin below him—sets off an explosion. At one point he walks with her body balanced on the back of his neck! Eve Gordon has a number of duets with Mangan in the aerial hoop that serves as the sisters’ home: as Mangan’s character succumbs to addiction, she flops out of the hoop and goes limp; when she’s finally revived, the symmetry in their movement is exquisite. A moving balance beam, ropes, and a tower of chairs all serve to showcase the performers’ incredibly toned bodies and mind-blowing acrobatic skills.

      Devotees of the poem might be disappointed by the minimal use of Rossetti’s text and selective exploration of her themes. But as an immersive experience for the senses, The Goblin Market dazzles.