Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Blue Show

Sarah Ward, Mason West and Rowan Heydon-White. Photo by Rob Blackburn. 

Circus Oz is such a reliable presence in the Melbourne performing arts calendar (they present a  month-long season each June/July) that frequent audiences can sometimes feel that they don't see enough new work from the company. Shows always have some rolling acts which change performers, costumes and/or theatrical theme, but are, in essence, the same physical choreography and tricks from year to year. 
The company’s recent 2010 show was probably the best one in a decade. (That's a big statement to make, but having watched Circus Oz now every year for 13 years, I can say it with some confidence.) This was in no small part due to the fact that many new members had recently joined the company and a recent initiative allowed Circus Oz to spend more time in development of brand new acts. The fresh material and rookie company members (many hailing from the National Institute of Circus Arts) reinvigorated the company with a fresh, fabulous and much needed zing.
Now, only 6 months later Circus Oz has resurfaced for a season in the Midsumma Festival with a Spiegeltent-housed The Blue Show. And it's totally different material from what they presented in June. The Blue Show was first commissioned in 2003 for the Adelaide Festival and then had a season in 2004 in the Spiegeltent here in Melbourne. Unlike a typical Oz show, The Blue Show was made for the intimate surrounds of a cabaret environment and was created with mums and dads, not kids, in mind. It's billed as a risque, adults-only affair, but, surprisingly, it's quite tame.
I can’t remember much about the 2004 version of The Blue Show other than with the exception of long-standing company member, Michael Ling, the cast was completely different than the one in this current incarnation.  The content and the director have changed too - this new Blue Show is directed by Anni Davey

Having recently acquired a 100-year-old Melba Spiegeltent, Circus Oz is making the most of its plush charm for The Blue Show. The concrete jungle of the Docklands is an odd spot for its debut appearance, but once inside, you're transported to a world far away from the Costco and endless rows of generic apartment blocks that surround it. It's actually quite an intimate venue. You will most likely have a much better time sitting close-up to the stage than far away - so line up early for a good seat. Unlike Circus Oz's Big Top, the Melba Spiegeltent does not have great vantage points from all locations. 
The Blue Show is an eccentric mix of tricks and personalities, with the performers doubling as musicians, singers and riggers. There's a political consciousness, a wacky sense of humour and a sense of organized chaos where things nearly fall apart many times but everything ends up alright in the end. Characters in The Blue Show are played thick and loose - especially Flip Kammerer  and Jeremy Davies  as a bogan pregnant couple (complete with ice chest, mullets and acid-washed jeans) who frequently appear in aerial routines and a daggy 80's ballet as well as butt into other performers' acts. This concept could definitely fall flat since the characterizations are really overplayed, but somehow they manage to pull it off. Similarly a very busy act that involves Rowan Heydon-White (limited by an ankle boot ) squeezing herself through the frame of a tennis racket while solving a rubik’s cube and doing low-level aerial work with Luke Taylor, really shouldn’t work but actually does. 
The Blue Show has superb skill, oddball personalities, daffy fun, and nakedness that is more cornball than titillating. There are nods to gender-bending with percussionist Bec Matthews sporting a five o’clock shadow, Sarah Ward singing about not being a girly-girl and Hazel Block stripping off her dark suit to reveal purple corset and panties while foot-juggling basketballs. It’s not really a sexy show, but it's a fun, wacky show, with plenty of near physical misses that could impale performers and audiences alike. (The front row wasn't given hard hats to wear for nothing!) 

Most importantly, the company has thoroughly embraced a lot of new material and while it doesn’t work a harmonious treat 100 percent of the time and occasionally tries too hard to get its more political messages across, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. There’s enough of the important stuff - great performers, fresh ideas and integration of physical action with music - to definitely hit the mark.
Click here for my review of The Blue Show in the Herald Sun, Monday 17 January 2011. 
The Blue Show
Circus Oz Melba Spiegeltent
13 January - 06 February 2011