Left – Jez Davies. Cover – the ensemble. Photos – Rob Blackburn
Circus Oz, you had me at hello. You completely changed the atmosphere at the Maj from Edwardian playhouse to playful madhouse.
A normal night in the lobby of the Maj can feel like a madhouse on its own; they haven’t quite got the layout right, even after all these years, so getting to the bar for some chocolate and a bubbly can prove to be a risky venture which could result in a smashed toe or being thwacked by a swinging handbag. To add another level of creative chaos to the affair, Circus Oz put a couple of saxophonists in amongst the milling patrons, playing what my memory wants to classify as New Orleans Mardi Gras music. To be sure, it certainly felt like we were making our way down Bourbon Street as we jostled through the doors.
As we made our way through the stalls to our seats, we were accosted by a young woman hawking Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from a wooden tray strapped around her neck; I knew then and there that I was going to love the show.
The atmosphere was casual and lively, with circus performers moving through the place, interacting with the civilians, doing a magic trick here and there, warming up the crowd so that by the time the house lights came down, the audience felt well and truly part of the event. There was a bit of sound trouble at the top, but the audience felt comfortable enough to shout out, “We can’t hear you!” and then after the problem was fixed, “Start again!”
This is not your typical circus geared at kids (it’s quite adult in fact), although it does have all the traditional circus elements: trapeze artists, jugglers, tightrope walkers, clowns, music, acrobats. These circus performers are very very good at what they do; when it’s hard they make it look easy, and when it’s probably a cakewalk, they make it look perilous. That’s part of the schtick, and we understand that illusion is essential to the circus, but instead of the tricks, stunts and gags being cliched and run-of-the-mill, they are made new, fresh and exciting through context and a ridiculous amount of joy and fun.
And not only do these guys fly through the air, juggle things with as many appendages as they can find, and tumble all over the place like Olympic gymnasts, but they also play their own instruments. Everybody became part of the band at one time or another, so the music was always deeply integrated with the performance, never just an accompaniment. This added to the party-like atmosphere where every moment was filled with something crazy, silly, sweet or amazing.
Conceptually, the show is based on the simple premise of a construction site, complete with a beam that flies in and out, scaffolding that rolls off and on, hard-hats, paintbrushes, tradesmen in short shorts, and an ingenious swinging drum set that acts like a wrecking ball, nearly knocking over the rest of the crew while the drummer plays in semi-darkness. The construction site becomes the loose framework for all the bits and acts, but it also becomes a metaphor for contemporary Australia, which is to say, a work-in-progress.
This circus isn’t just about spectacle, although it goes well above and beyond what you’d typically expect to see in a circus. Circus Oz has a heart and soul at its center that is joyfully spreading a message of community and inclusion. They proudly bring together cast and crew from all walks of life, make giving back to the community a top priority, and focus on cultivating strong roles for indigenous Australians and women within the company. They want to inspire people to see Australia’s diversity as an asset, one that enriches the spirit of this nation and its culture.
A profound mission, undertaken with serious, fearless, fabulous fun.
Perth Theatre Trust presents
From the Ground Up
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, 825 Hay Street, Perth
Dates: 29 – 31 August, 2013; Matinees Saturday 31 August, 1.30pm
Tickets: $75 – $30
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au