Rating: Four and a Half Stars.
Circus Oz’s Twenty-Sixteen has arrived in the familiar Melbourne Big Top, fresh off a short regional and international tour. With a few shows already delivered, the company at Thursday’s gala night seem relaxed and confident, presenting a show with a bit of room to breathe and with opening night nerves (a problem in the past) already settled.
Fans of director Anni Davey will see her spin on this new production, which offers a fresh perspective on the skills and values of Circus Oz, without abandoning its unique identity. With a string of successful cabaret, physical theatre and small circus shows already under her belt, Davey enhances Circus Oz’s commitment to showcasing female talent and challenging gender stereotypes in circus.
The women of Circus Oz have always been as strong and wickedly talented as their male peers, but Twenty-Sixteen consistently brings the point home. Stacks of acrobats, three women high, tower over the stage. Performers Spenser Inwood, Sharon Gruenert and April Dawson throw themselves into a trapeze routine set to heavy metal beats, swinging wildly above the audience.
Inwood and Gruenert also star in a strongwoman duet dressed as dolls that cling fixedly to their plastic smiles, while Inwood more or less catches and hurls every member of the company into the air from her upside perch during the grand company trapeze number.
While the women of Circus Oz well and truly carry this show, the rest of the cast is also terrific. Matt Wilson, for example, performs a balance act on stacked chairs through a stunningly conceived dream sequence, ending with a spectacular drop from the peak of the tent and onto a waiting mat.
Anchoring this show is the chirpy and flamboyant Dale Woodbridge-Brown, whose acrobatic skills are matched by the charisma and sharp comedic timing he brings to the stage. And while our old favourite ‘Fantasia Fitness’ seems to have retired, her spirit is reborn in the guise of a new-age, quasi-mystic ‘Tarot-ist’ by the name of ‘Infinity Love Beads’ (Flip Kammerer), who offers her prayers to psyllium husks and kombucha of all hipster things, making pointed fun of anybody currently following the paleo diet.
Circus Oz performances are pulled together with costumes (by Laurel Frank) that seem like hidden op shop gems, making look a bit cool what might otherwise seem a bit shabby on anybody else. But it’s not just the look – those gags that should be ‘roll your eyes daggy’ were they not delivered with such self-effacing and genuine quirk are part of this company’s very clear artistic identity.
With a tone that offers a bit more range than in past years’ productions (and particularly powerful quiet and thoughtful dramatic moments), Twenty-Sixteen may well be a signal of a company finding its artistic voice again, and with a future as bright as its distinguished past.
Photographer: Rob Blackburn