Friday 10 June 2016

But Wait, There's More... - Circus Review

What: But Wait…There’s More!
Where: Birrarung Marr
When: June 17 – July 12
Performed by: Candy Bowers, April Dawson, Beau Dudding, Sharon Gruenert, Ben Hendry, Spenser Inwood, Lilikoi Kaos, Nathan Kell, Derek Llewelllin, Olivia Porter, Kyle Raftery, Ania Reynolds, Matt Wilson, and Dale Woodbridge-Brown.
Set by:  Felipe Reynolds
Costumes by:  Laurel Frank
Props by:  Michael Baxter
Lighting by:  Paul Jackson

Do you ever wonder what it felt like in the olden days when communities were scattered and the circus coming to town was the most exciting event on the annual calendar?  Well, you don’t have to wonder any more.

You get all the thrills and fun and atmosphere of old school big tip circus with the Circus Oz show But Wait…There’s More!  Performed under an authentic big top circus tent, with a main ‘ring’ performance stage, popcorn, hotdogs, fun and thrills galore you get everything circus is traditionally known and loved for.

And I do mean everything.  Circus Oz is known for being one of the world’s first animal free circuses, but when you see their lion tamer act you won’t be able to stop laughing as the lions turn the tables on the tamer!

One of the really exciting things about this show is that it really does have everything you expect a circus to include – it just happens with a twist of humour and political commentary.  Circus Oz has always been a company whose passion and mission lies in the pursuit of social justice.  They just happen to do it with a laugh and a prat fall.

The title of the show is a play on words.  Circus is built on a cash for entertainment relationship with the audience, and the catch cry to keep the audience there and spending money has always been “But wait, there’s more!” 

These days that siren call has been taken over by vendors, and none more enthusiastically than television infomercials (I should mention that you will not come away with a set of six steak knives at the end of this show, just a sore belly from laughing too much).  Playing on that duality, Wilson gets the theme going with a song about how we all need more ‘stuff’ as Porter goes around scanning everything she can see with a bar code scanner. 

Later in the show Bowers does a rap with the chorus line “99.99 built to break” as she performs a pointed costume montage poking fun at female consumerism.  Bowers brings the street attitude to the show and a bit of a serious side with her hard hitting rap lyrics punctuating the silliness of the show.

I liked the idea of what she was doing, but those moments did bring down the energy a bit.  Some of that was unavoidable because often there were apparatus changes taking place, but I think the bigger problem is that the music and performance style was such a clash with the traditional circus motif throughout the rest of the show.

In general though But Wait…There’s More! manages to keep the energy high throughout.  The show began with a phenomenal acrobatic unicycle duet between Raftery and Dawson.  This routine hasn’t happened for a while because Raftery had an injury and you could tell by their honest joy and relief at the end of the routine that it was a success and they are back on form.

As I mentioned earlier, But Wait…There’s More! is tongue in cheek all the way, determined to raise and then defy expectations just as they defy gravity at times.  Nothing achieved this better than the trapeze routine.  So much lack of skill is truly awesome to observe in a troupe with this much talent and expertise!  We also got a hilarious version of illusionist skills such as the sword slicing the assistant routine, and the disappearing act.

As I may have mentioned before, one of the things the circus world understands intrinsically is the importance of great costumes, and Frank is evidently a master designer.  These costumes are glitzy yet accessible, on point thematically yet paying homage to the traditions of circus, beautiful yet practical.

Reynolds has created the visage of an abyss from which the performers emerge and return, framed by a crumbling building with the comedy mask on one side and the tragedy on the other, the arch split in half between them.  A reflection of their breaking of traditions perhaps? 

Jackson’s lighting is perfection as usual.  Somehow Jackson manages to provide all the light needed for the performers yet create a unique and interesting atmosphere for each different act.  He never resorts to repetition and, even though the performance is in the round, there are no lights glaring into the audiences eyes.

I was lucky enough to get a front row seat.  Normally it is a good idea to avoid front rows because performers have a tendency to include you in this trendy concept of audience interaction. 

In this instance though, I say get it if you can!  Nobody jumps out to grab you, but you get the added thrill of some of the acrobats looking like they are just about to fall in your lap accidently.  And seriously, what is a circus without a whole lot of breath taking?

My only warning is that the refreshment stands are a cash economy and there are no ATMs on the premises, so make sure you take money with you.  Having said that, the snacks are really cheap and good value so you won’t be fleeced – unlike most entertainment establishments these days.  This makes it an excellent family experience and one that won’t send you broke.

4.5 Stars

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