It’s not actually that rare—not so rare—to find narrative in circus, at least not the kind that plays on theatre stages, but it is quite unusual to see contemporary circus that engages in explicit, linear storytelling. The Hot Dots follows the on- and off-stage relationship of Frank and Evie—he a juggler, she an acrobat and singer, both stars of late 1920s vaudeville theatre—who meet by chance and form acrobatic dance duo The Hot Dots. They fall in love, they’re wildly successful, but over time the joy they find in performing together is slowly erased; everything falls apart.
At the centre of the show is the act, Frank and Evie’s act, but also So & So (Kaveh Rahnama and Lauren Hendry)’s standalone cabaret piece: an energetic, floridly-costumed union of swing, lindyhop and quick acrobalance that gets several performances in the course of the evening. With some slight modifications and compressions it’s mostly technically the same, but each time it encodes differently the state of Frank and Evie’s relationship, expressing exhilaration then escape then growing apartness. In a way these are the most substantial scenes, and returning to the Hot Dots act anchors down a plot that otherwise pursues a sort of time-lapse effect, speeding through probably months of real-time and updating the audience on developments rather than really letting them unfold—which isn’t really a fault, just a choice of depiction, and the show does manage to find its quiet moments, including a single, precise use of film when Frank and Evie, alienated, anhedonic, inturned, go to the cinema and can see nothing on screen but a reflection of their own thoughts and feelings.
In the aftershow talk Hot Dots director Kristine Landon-Smith talked about how she had encouraged Lauren and Kaveh not to assume characters but, essentially, to be themselves on stage. As a strategy for coping with drops and the branching uncertainties of physical performance it works very well—when they miss a trick it doesn’t get ignored or glossed; it’s welcomed in. It doesn't map so effectively onto the vocal acting—perhaps because they’re less comfortable finding and manipulating the full expressive range of a fixed script than they are a sequence of actions—and personally I think the slow-motion advert music they match to moments of sadness or introspection is so saturated with market connotations that it homogenises the individual experience they're trying to draw from and project. Still, on the whole you have to feel that Kristine has put So & So on the right track, and while Lauren and Kaveh will develop and strengthen as performers, the company are already getting most other things right—the lighting, designed by Nick Flintoff, moves subtly between the different worlds of stage and dressing room, street and theatre—and without ever needing to reconfigure Sue Mayes’ simple, evocative set. It's very different fare to the endless rhizomic narrativity of Sugar Beast or the loosely interlocked scenes of Wardrobe Diaries, but So & So have their own style and stories to tell; let's see where they go next.