Dementia, loneliness and social isolation are huge problems affecting today’s society, and yet they aren’t often the focus in theatre, dance and other art forms. So it’s refreshing to see Lumo Company address these issues in their contemporary circus piece, Lola.
The audience are confronted with the theme of memory loss from the moment they set foot in the Quays Theatre; post-it notes stuck between the seats read ‘keys,’ ‘wallet’ ‘lock the doors’ and other reminders. These handwritten notes are mirrored in noticeboards displayed around the stage, and in the scraps of paper that performer Hanna Moisala sticks to everything from a chair to her co-performer’s leg.
Lola sees Moisala and fellow cast member, Angeliki Nikolakaki use everything from aerial straps and a tight-wire to furniture, skipping ropes and footballs. Their partner work, supporting each other in clever moves and balances, symbolically replicates the support that dementia sufferers need from their carers and family. Often it’s the simplest touches that have the most impact: Nikolakaki physically mirroring Moisala’s tight-rope walk from underneath, or their ponytails being tied together at the start of the piece so that they can’t move apart.
Stunning tricks are pulled off with flair, showcasing the performers’ strength and flexibility, but at other times they appear to struggle, conveying the strain of living with dementia in a way that is genuinely poignant. One memorable scene sees the pair attempting to pour and drink tea while balancing on a long metal tube, an exercise which physically affects the performers’ coordination and strength as if they were elderly. Nikolakaki’s aerial strap solo is full of impressive drops and wraps, but also has a moving lyrical quality.
However, sometimes it’s hard to see the place of certain scenes within this narrative. The section which sees Nikolakaki suspended from bungee cords on all fours, wearing a horse mask, while Moisala simulates riding her is so surreal and sexualised that it’s a disturbing contrast with the rest of the piece. At other points Moisala appears to eat a rose from a vase with a knife and fork; the two performers also perform a section with skipping ropes in Wonder Woman costumes to 80s video game-style music.
While physical absurdist comedy might be a part of the circus tradition, it feels off-kilter with the rest of this production, which is an otherwise sensitive, clever portrayal of life with dementia.★ ★ ★
Lola was at The Lowry, Salford Quays on 21 November 2019.