Eight nondescript people line up at the back of a small stage staring back at an audience staring at them. After an awkward silence they find themselves isolated spots, shout ‘Falling!’ and fall backwards. Miraculously they are caught by one of their colleagues before hitting the ground. Most of the time. This is choreographed up to a point but the nature of this type of acrobatic performance by Gravity & Other Myths means there is room for error and when those mistakes occur people can get hurt. Fortunately no one did, although I was quivering with terror several times, writes Michael Holland

After a few hectic minutes of devised mayhem the troupe once again stood at the rear of the stage and allowed the crowd to get its breath back. Behind their eyes you could see them smiling at our amazement. They then took it up a gear, energies rose throughout the Spiegeltent and as they smiled away on stage while throwing each other around, grunts and groans emanated from a stunned audience apparently living every move.

This Australian circus company has discarded any glitz and glamour to create A Simple Space and bring the true essence of circus acrobatics right down to its true core. We were at the front and could see the rawness of their endeavours. I truly feared for our safety when one of the performers stood atop a colleague’s head with one foot, while he was balancing on the shoulders of another at the bottom. If they fell they would fall on the front row, and even though they knew how to fall and land, I hadn’t had any training in catching tumbling acrobats! 

And when they were spinning each other around, with their faces just millimetres from the floor, I thought they were going to fly through the air and smash us all off our seats. In my peripheral vision all I could see was members of the audience flinching and covering their faces. I know that the acrobats’ smiles at the end of each throw, catch and spin was at our expense. 

Gravity & Other Myths are at the top of their game; all have been doing this since childhood and by the look on their faces are now doing it for fun. With minimal props they become human trampolines for others to bounce off; stepping stones to be walked on; trapezes to be swung off , and even targets for us to throw balls at in attempts to unbalance them.

Those 8 nondescript performers outdid all expectation; I left feeling like I had done a proper workout, but with a smile as huge as theirs on my face.

A Simple Space is on at Underbelly Southbank Festival, London, SE1 8XX until Sun 5 May (not Mondays), 7.30pm (Tues-Fri), 3pm & 6pm (Sat and Sun)

Admission: From £19 Tues and Weds, from £23 Thurs-Sun 

www.underbellyfestival.com