Sunday, October 10, 2010

Carnival of Mysteries

Image by The Sisters Hayes. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson.

Is this not the best image for a show that you have seen in a long time?
Totally intriguing. Really makes you wonder who are all these people are and why are they together. 
Carnival of Mysteries was  chaotic, entertaining, uplifting and deeply macabre all at once. Creators Finucane & Smith took their burlesque visions to new levels of audience participation. Participants didn't just sit around a catwalk partaking in sensually dark acts up-close and personally like they did in The Burlesque Hour. They walked through the space, negotiated crowds, tents, sideshow rooms and made conscious choices about how to spend their carnival cash (although in many cases the pushy spruikers were pretty persistent and made the choices for them.) There were so many acts to see - both serious and tawdry - that every person would have had a different experience. If you tried too hard to see everything, you would have been disappointed. Better to just take what came your way. Take the shonky with the uplifting; the just plain kooky with the sexy.  My experience included an erotic reading in the Victorian library, letter-writer Miss Lee penning me a beautiful postcard to give my husband, a fortune-telling by clairvoyant Ann Povey, a nonsensical melodrama between three Russian sisters and a monotonous monologue about various ways to die. 
Interesting aside: The "special" acts (they costed $10,000 a pop) happened in the Tent of Miracles. This tent is a mini big-top circus tent that seats about 30 people. Finucane  & Smith had been planning its realisation for some time and commissioned eight different visual artists to each design and paint a panel of the tent. The tent looked amazing - full of variety and vibrancy, with each panel having a distinctly different look. In the crowded environment of Fortyfive Downstairs it was hard to take it all in, but when this Tent of Miracles hits the touring circuit (especially if used in outdoor spaces), it will be a very impressive mini venue. 
Below is my review as published in the Herald Sun, Monday 11 October.
Carnival of Mysteries must be the only show in town that credits a carnival ephemerist in its program. This theatrical event invites its guests to wander through an intricately designed traveling circus of yore - packed with grotesque characters, snake-oily sprukiers and circus freaks. In Side Show Alley and the Tent of Miracles the acts range from the titillating and ridiculous to the macabre. Nobody knows what they are getting until they’ve paid their illegal tender and entered the booth. 
But what is certain is that in the capable and eccentric hands of creators Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith, experienced merchants in all that is burlesque and carnivalesque, the mayhem and chaos is tightly organized and fabulously detailed. With a slew of visual artists and costume designer Doyle Barrow, they have constructed an evening that is unabashedly sensual, grungy and and fully interactive with the audience. There’s no choice but to be swept up in the seedy fervour, especially since there’s nowhere to hide - even the bar is the site for acts both refined and lewd. 
When it all wraps up with a feel-good, utterly anachronistic 80s inspired finale, it feels way too soon. Just when the revelry hits a frenzy, this motley crew of carnie folk have to head back to their tents to do it all again. Fans can’t get enough of Finucane & Smith’s odd-ball delights. The only way to score a ticket now probably involves a dangerous back street transaction.
Carnival of Mysteries
Melbourne International Arts Festival
Fortyfive Downstairs
7 - 30 October 2010

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