The Dream Menagerie | Strut & FretThe latest show to come dazzling out of Strut & Fret production house is The Dream Menagerie, a confetti drenched dreamscape where things inside the Speigeltent are meant to be seen and not believed this Brisbane Festival.

Director Scott Maidment has assembled a stellar cast of performers, including Captain Frodo, from local troupe The Happy Sideshow and international La Clique fame. Two other Australian stars; Imaan Hadchiti, a brilliant stand up comedian and Derek Ives, a circus and clown superstar. Also in the cast is Canadian magician Derek Scott, who has performed with the likes of Cirque Du Soleil, Austrian multi-instrumentalist Trent Arkleysmith and a mystery lady singer.

The show’s inspiration draws from both the Pyramus and Thisbe play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the wedding feast scene from Tod Browning’s 1932 film, Freaks. Taking the absurdity of Shakespeare’s play and the mood of the film to blend a surreal experience for the audience. However these base themes are only distinguishable on a very subtle level throughout the performance, with the characteristic style of Strut and Fret’s traditional circus cabaret shining through.

The show steers away from theatrical narrative, with Maidment preferring to add a more open-ended approach to the action. Scenes drift into one another, without specific meaning or cause, perhaps to mimic the nature of a dream. Trent Arkleysmith performs the score with finesse and the music fits perfectly with the shifting moods throughout the evening.

From the tent’s ceiling, to the walkways amongst the audience, spaces in the Speigeltent are used to wonderful effect, with elaborate apparatus and many interactive scenarios in which the crowd at large participates in the performance. As a whole, the show is more of an experiential production, focused on spectacle and intending to induce a sense of wonder and whimsy as opposed to a more cerebral experience.

With such a host of talent in the cast, it is surprising that their individual skills are not used to greater effect. Out of the two star catalysts for the show, Imaan Hadchiti, renowned for his political and provocative comedy, does no speaking whatsoever. Captain Frodo, world record holding contortionist, takes a back seat in the performance with only a couple of starring scenes, which were stand out moments and left the audience hanging for more. The majority of the performance is ensemble work and interactions between the characters, with plenty of classic clowning and songs, but without any acrobatics or spoken text.

The Dream Menagerie does, as promised, surround its audience in a surreal fantasy of grand scale, but for this reviewer it fails to cross the line from whimsy into true wonder. The rubber-faced Captain Frodo with his endless confetti is a marvel in himself, possibly more so than any of the donkeys or bubble machines could ever be. Visually sumptuous and guaranteed to be expertly performed every night, this glitteringly well-produced show will certainly leave you whelmed, to varying degrees.

Brisbane Festival 2011 and Strut & Fret Production House present
The Dream Menagerie

Venue: The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent, King George Square
Dates: 4 - 24 September, 2011
Duration: 60 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: $32 – $42
Bookings: Foxtix 1300 111 369

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