Photo – Jo Duck
The Spiegeltent is always a destination for the eclectic, unusual and a bit risqué when it comes to Festival time, and that description would serve to describe Retro Futurismus as well.
Indeed, the nature of this cabaret-circus variety show is a bit hard to readily impart more specifically, without immediately launching into the details of its acts. A kind of weird mélange of self-reflexively daggy and oddball pieces awash with colourful costumes and science-fiction reference points both vague and highly specific. These are framed as an affectionate parody of the kind of hyperbolic fluorescent futurism of 1980s and ‘90s space movies and pop music electronica.
The acts vary from dance, to live singing, circus, theatrical monologues, and what could probably be best classified as performance art. Whilst the most experimental and bizarre, the spoken-word pieces tended to vary between the curiously amusing at best and mostly befuddling at worst. These often seemed to be stretching the occasionally melancholic tone of the show to its darker or more maudlin extremes, in a way that didn’t always feel particularly cohesive with the generally lighter, more humorous tone of the overarching production. While the duologue of two astronauts suspended above the crowd or another between giant alien cockroaches seemed shot through with a certain dark humour, the monologue concerning alcoholism appeared at face value to be deadly serious, and seemingly apropos of nothing else in this show, even by the standards of the often loose connections between the rest of the material. The piece thus rung a rather bum note, despite being well-performed in and of itself.
Most of the acts, however, were a delight. Bizarre semi-nude performance pieces by Teresa Blake, variably as an amorphous creature literally shitting bricks, later as a woman awkwardly wearing a bikini and thongs made from bricks in turn, or trying to get dressed while her body is fused with a chair as though the result of a teleportation accident, were each beguilingly unexpected, strangely haunting and filled with character. As with her unconventional puppeteering act, Blake brings a lot of personality to her nonverbal performances, setting the standard for many of the other, somewhat more conventional pieces.
Even relatively familiar circus-style acts such as Anna Lumb’s complex hula-hoops or Mozes’ aerial rope work are tremendously enhanced by the performers injecting a great deal of off-kilter personality and attitude into their actions, drawing one’s eye to their entertaining showmanship as much as their technical proficiency. The more outlandish and comical acts were probably the most memorable, however, such as Lumb rollerskating over bubble-wrap, or her frenetic dance duet in hoodies with Gabi Barton, who in turn performed a memorably nutty movement piece inside a giant slinky made from air-conditioner ducting.
The twin hosts, Anni and Maude Davey, contribute both some of the most and least successful pieces, setting an awkward note at the opening and closing, yet delivering some standout moments such as a humorously gothic rendition of the song “Back to Black” awash with gore effects, or the aforementioned astronauts’ conversation while spacewalking up the sides of the tent.
Gabi Barton again provided a high point of the evening when one of her songs, itself a continuation of a comically surreal earlier movement piece where she emerges out of a giant starfish costume as an even-stranger-looking creature in tights, went drastically awry. Near the beginning of her number, Barton swung over the audience on a rope used by a previous aerial act, only to slip and fall a good six feet or so onto the front row. With remarkable aplomb, having quickly ascertained that no-one was seriously injured, she continued the song as though hardly missing a beat, and gave it her all.
Retro Futurismus is a funny, sometimes moving, frequently hallucinatory mix of camp satire and downright weirdness, set to a catchy synth-pop score, which will beguile and entertain those in the right mindset for a quirky variety show that embraces its own kinks.
2017 Sydney Festival
Venue: Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent | Meriton Festival Village, Hyde Park North NSW
Dates: 24 – 29 January 2017
Tickets: Priority $56 | General Admission $46 – $41