The Mill – New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

It’s a brave move to stage a piece of aerial circus work outside in September. A last minute change, from the New Wolsey Theatre stage to outside on their terrace, adds an element of risk to Ockham’s Razor’s The Mill. This being a show you wouldn’t want to perform in the wind or rain, seeing performers precariously perched on ropes and a giant hamster wheel suspended high above the stage.

An unseen taskmaster issues instructions to five workers who push, pull and rotate various ropes, pulleys and wheels to complete their task. When the machine breaks down the five are forced to come up with a new system to complete the work. The actual plot, however, is secondary to the impressive skill of the five aerialists.

It’s a world of constant motion that sees the performers climbing up ropes and spinning the giant wheel in a ballet of perfect unison. Ropes connected to the wheels via a series of pulleys make the five work as one unit. If one piece of the chain fails all fail. Even in moments when technical hitches, such as a tangled rope, delay the action, the cast adapt seamlessly.

There are hints of Stalinist regimes or even Victorian treadmills here but there is also humour in the piece with some lovely observed moments of comedy. These small moments of clowning a perfect balance for the large scale set pieces. Director Toby Sedgwick wisely lets the action take centre stage without sacrificing structure.

Performers Alex Harvey, Tina Koch, Charlotte Mooney, Steve Ryan and Stefano Di Renzo work as a true ensemble, trusting each other with split-second timing in this shining example of how physical theatre can deliver a story strong in both drama and visuals.

The move to an alfresco setting does create some issues; sound has to battle with the noise of passing traffic. While the outdoor floodlighting does add a stark mood to the piece, a more sculptural take from traditional stage lighting would have enhanced the scenic aspect. These are minor niggles however and shouldn’t detract from the impressive skill on display here. This inventive company is one to watch in the future.

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