Performed by: Mattias Andersson, Matias Salmenaho, Peter Aberg
Music by: Andreas Tendblad
Director: Olle Strandberg
The Underman is the bottom in an acrobatic partnership (and there was no way I could not make that sound gay). Three sturdy men bereft of their high-flying partners have embarked on a world tour, trying to carve a new niche in circus performance where the strong man can take centre stage. Accompanied by a travelling musician, they juggle kettle bells, fly through the air, solve Rubik’s cubes and do contemporary dance to an Elvis cover.
You might guess that it’s a disparate mix of performance, and you’d be right. Underman is admirably different in its approach to circus entertainment: where in most crowd-pleasing events the star would try and energise the audience, leading up to a big finish, and keep the applause going as long as possible, this Finish production is quite content to suddenly plunge into blackout and leave you there for a few minutes, with nothing but folk music to listen to. The distinctly Scandinavian appetite for depressive humour, rock segues and plaid shirted beardy men shines through like a Eurovision entry.
The Underman monologues that create the backstory of performing partnerships broken-up is rather lovely, with muscly men timidly admitting to their feelings of loneliness. Two stand out circus moments matched that tone exactly: the three men rising, falling and lifting each other in a conversation that said “when you feel lost, your mates will be there catch you”, and a sweet little routine in which a single feather is kept aloft by a playful spinning hoop. The show does break apart for my Western-European tastes during the lengthy setups and the music numbers which go on too long, even though all the performers play skillfully. The kettlebell juggling routines must surely be an impressive display of strength, but it doesn’t translate very well to a spotlight in the cavernous Roundhouse, as you have no real sense of the effort involved.
It’s an honest show, and director Olle Strandberg has given the Finish strongmen clear voices with something to say. But as a circus performance, it struggles to exhilarate and is a little light on content.
VERDICT: *** (Three stars) Strong men showing a softer side is a melancholy mix of circus tricks.