(l-r) Paul O'Keefe, Flip Kammerer & Rockie Stone. Photo - Rob Blackburn
Circus Oz’s reputation for bizarre and brilliant physicality with a social conscience is well and truly upheld in their new show Barely Contained, which opened on Thursday evening at Birrarung Marr in the heart of Melbourne, the company’s home town. Barely Contained takes traditional circus acts and other conventional social norms and turns them upside down, spins them around and finishes them off with a hilarious crash landing.
The premise of the show is supposed to be a “formal and opulent” ballroom scene which descends into the chaos of a badly behaved but incredibly talented circus troupe showing off their latest tricks and making fools of themselves in the process. While this sounded like an interesting way of linking the circus acts together into a coherent whole, the formality and elegance of the initial scene was not really established before it began to fall apart. The following acts had little to do with the original premise and in the end I felt that it was unnecessary; the performers’ sense of humour and impressive physicality were strong enough to allow each act to stand on its own. The strength of characterisation and the well-developed relationships between those characters also rendered the ballroom idea a bit redundant.
There were so many outstanding acts in this show that it’s difficult to know which ones to mention. Eli Green’s Aussie bride character drew gasps from the audience with her hula hoop routine which included, amongst many others, a hoop spinning around her open-mouthed face. The portrayal of the hoops as ever-multiplying oversized wedding rings from which she seemed unable to escape added some good-humoured social commentary to the mix.
Circus Oz stalwart Mel Fyfe displayed her strongwoman powers and defied gender stereotypes in an extraordinary feat which involved lifting a motley crew of six brass band musicians and one cheeky tap dancer, all sitting (or dancing) on a long plank. And Rockie Stone’s ‘stuck-in-a-chair’ routine proved that simplicity is the key to clowning, especially for the kids in the audience who rocked with laughter in their seats as she struggled to extricate herself from a seat-less chair.
Laurel Frank’s kangaroo costumes, used in an ensemble teeterboard act, were a favourite for me because they exemplified Circus Oz’s attitude to circus: a willingness to send themselves up and look ridiculously silly while simultaneously performing risky and demanding traditional circus skills.
Chris Lewis’ trio of musicians provided a wacky and diverse musical backdrop to all of these acts and many more. I would have liked to see a little more of them in this show; because of all the visual activity I rarely had a chance to watch the musicians and really listen to what they were doing (with the exception of Shannon Barnett’s aerial trombone trick).
The partnership between Mel Fyfe and Emma J Hawkins (a self-described “short statured triple-threat performer: actress, dancer and singer.”) made them the stars of the show. Their charismatic personalities shone on stage and their evident respect for each other, as well as the way they revelled in the limelight, was both entertaining and touching. This was particularly so in a clever sequence where Hawkins appears as a ballerina on stilts wreaking havoc with a ballerina jewellery box.
Barely Contained makes you laugh, think, gasp, grab on to the edge of your seat, let out a sigh of relief, and then laugh again. Go and experience it!
Venue: Under the Big Top, Birrarung Marr
Dates: 17 June – 12 July
Bookings: Ticketmaster www.ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100