Left – Sarah Ward, Paul O'Keeffe, Flip Kammerer, Mason West. Photo – Rob Blackburn
After more than 30 years of entertaining audiences around the world, the question has to be asked: does this Australian contribution to the world of circus really have anything new to offer? The answer is a resounding yes.
In a sense, this is more of the same in that there is a ringmaster (or ringmistress... in fact gender roles are reversed quite often here), there are jugglers, trapeze artists, hoola-hoopists, musicians and clowns. No circus animals, just very clever humans.
But this time round it's all dressed up in the sartorial weirdness of steampunk, a wonderful style drawing on goggles, leather flying caps, corsets, capes and tights from Victorian times and the anarchic randomness and DIY of punk. It's old-fashioned futurism, science fiction technology of yesteryear, and it's the perfect dress-up for the circus because the circus, in the end, is about having fun.
The fun begins as soon as you enter the big top, stepping back into a time that didn't exist. The guy dressed as a tripped out Biggles-type character with his khakis and leather, spruiking the program with “Get your program – you'll need it or you won't have a clue what's going on” appeared to be one of Circus Oz's founding members Tim Coldwell, who appears later in the show as a... well a tripped out Biggles-type character.
Performers mingle with the audience as it settles so that it feels like the show has already started, until Sarah Ward as The Boss Lady drops from the ceiling to let you know, now the show begins. No one argues with The Boss Lady.
For about the next two hours, prepare to be dazzled, amazed and awed by what talented and hard working human bodies are really capable of. The balancing, the juggling, the strength and grace on show here is head-shakingly impressive... more so when – if you pay attention – you realise that most of the performers are masters across multiple disciplines. Paul O'Keefe as Dr Spokes does a hilarious routine on a fragmenting old bicycle only to appear later as a master juggler and again as a master acrobat. Likewise, the Amazonian Flip Krammer pulls off a graceful aerial piece with as much skill as her comical skate sequence.
This skating sequence was possibly the comical highlight in what has to be said is a very funny show. What all of these performers have in common, whether musician one moment and tumbler the next, is their clowning skills. It really is like a massive kaleidoscope of clowning, without the clown suits – and why bother with clown suits when you can have the sexiness of steampunk?
Throughout the show there was much laughter, loads of applause, and quite a bit of bum-squirming, because some of the acts really did look impossible. Standing up on one or two highly unstable objects, fine, but seven or eight? Get out of here – you're going to hurt yourself.
The kids lapped it all up as much as the parents and the real life steampunks (yes, there were a few who wear this kind of gear in the real world present). The kids in the seats in front of me leapt to their feet a couple of times, overwhelmed with excitement and I watched the parents try to quieten them down. I wondered why. Let 'em go, I thought, let them grow into the fun-shackles we grow into as adults.
The show is over when The Boss Lady sings. It's a fine voice that brings the show to a close far too early, and the performers, now a marching band, make their exuberant exit. It's a wonderful show right to the end.
Be nice to yourself. Step out of the real world for a while and see Circus Oz: Steampowered; you won't be able to wipe the smile off your face.
Circus Oz presents
Venue: Under the heated Big Top Birrarung Marr | Between Federation Square and Batman Avenue
Dates: 22 June – 17 July, 2011
Tickets: from $27
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au, 136 100 or Ticketmaster Outlets