Left – Jez Davies. Cover – the ensemble. Photos – Rob Blackburn
Melbourne’s home grown ‘little circus that could’ Circus Oz – which started 35 years ago, and has made Australia proud around the world, performing in 26 countries across five continents to critical acclaim – has come home, and once again pitched up its big top in Birrarung Marr, to kick off its season with a bang.
Finding inspiration in the black and white photographs from the early part of the 20th century, of steel workers eating lunch on the high girders of skyscrapers, Circus Oz called this year’s show Cranked Up, version 2.0 of last year's production ‘From the Ground Up’ (FTGU).
FTGU is a very appropriate name for the show, since Circus Oz is in the beginning stages of building its permanent home in Melbourne. Apparently, architects’ and builders’ plans made its way next to plans for the show, costume design and set design ideas; pretty soon the two began to merge and ‘From the Ground Up’ was conceived.
The talented indigenous actor/clown Mark Sheppard has entered the mix, as the Master of Ceremony / Ring Leader and multiple hat wearer. On opening night, Mark welcomed everyone warmly and after teaching them some key phrases from his nation, he proceeded to introduce one side of the audience to the other, and explained how now, everyone under the big top was one family, and part of the building process.
Dressed in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s construction worker-like gear, the rest of the cast began to trickle in, bit by bit, to then unfold the spectacle which all so eagerly awaited. Jugglers, acrobats, riggers, aerialists, magicians, singers and musicians, evoked a smile and a gasp from onlookers. It was refreshing to observe people’s facial expressions, almost as much as taking in the actual show...well almost. We were there to see the show, after all.
The folks behind this great troupe say that, “making a Circus Oz show is always three parts getting the right group together, two parts experimenting, four parts saying yes to absurd ideas, while trying not to injure anyone along the way.” The cast for the 2013 season reflects this philosophy, through its talent. You know the saying: “Jack of all trades, but master of none?” the saying does not apply in this instance. These performers are so well versed at literally everything which has to do with the circus, that I would not be surprised if they also sewed their own costumes.
The Circus Oz performers are one great masala of talent crammed into one individual, then multiplied by 13.
Example: Flip Kammerer (Fantaysia), is an acrobat, musician, break-dancer, trapeze artist, inline skater, comedian, and stunt woman – the falls she took for the sake of laughs still hurt, just to think of them.
Hazel Bock has her talents listed as: Juggling, foot juggling, clowning, and although she is quite brilliant at it all, she, like others from the cast played an instrument, armed and disarmed the sets in the dark, as well as knit an afghan between scenes.
The performers on center stage clearly stand out the most in the show, but in Circus Oz’s case, the musicians also take part in the principal act. Bec Matthews, the percussionist, was strapped into a huge pendulum-like wooden contraption, swung wildly above the stage and Ania Reynolds, played the piano 10 meters above the audience.
One could go on and on about each member and their participation in the show, but how do you pick one performer over another when they are all so incredible? What is indisputable is that, the whole experience under the great Circus Oz tent is completely mind blowing.
Starting from the front door, into the refreshments area, followed through to the ushers, all are vibrant welcoming individuals, and finally la pièce de résistance, the entertainment is like an exquisite chocolaty frosting atop an already delicious cupcake.
Cranked Up is built on a wonderful, tried and tested foundation, reaching up, up to the sky with the help of one great big extremely talented and generous family.
Circus Oz presents
Venue: Circus Oz Big Top | Birrarung Marr, between Federation Square and Batman Avenue, Melbourne
Dates: 19 June – 14 July 2013
Tickets: $24 – $92
Bookings: 136 100 | ticketmaster.com.au