Making a Splash
ZENOBIA FROST reviews Brisbane Festival’s LA SOIRÉE.
After the glimmering, otherworldly delights of the Lantern Walk, I notice immediately that this year’s Spiegeltent is different. As the tent is an annual highlight, it felt like coming home only to find that someone has redecorated. Gone is the dark-wooded Bavarian beer house, and in its place is a smaller but more cheerful tent. Admittedly, its lighting is better and its carved grotesques contribute to the circus atmosphere, but — and this is important — the bar is now located outside. I’m afraid you’re going to have to shuffle out of your closely packed row and miss chunks of La Soirée if you don’t want to queue behind all of Brisbane to get your wine during the interval.
I swear I’ll get to the show in a minute, but as an additional piece of advice, arrive early — the queue for La Soirée dissolves into the crowd watching the City of Lights laser show, and you want to be in the clearly-defined metre-worth of that queue by the Spiegeltent entrance – with your glass of wine. Trust me. You don’t want to miss anything.
The Courier Mail Spiegeltent’s mainhouse event for this year’s Brisbane Festival, La Soirée promises “sexy, shocking, witty” shenanigans from local and international vaudeville artists. It delivers — but that makes sense. The show, a follow-up to La Clique, comes to us already polished, having sold out seasons in New York, Paris, London and Montreal. After 2011’s confusing The Dream Menagerie, Strut and Fret Productions take a back seat for this year’s Brisbane Festival — even after several successful world premieres, with the likes of Feasting on Flesh and Cantina. The latter show, Cantina — now endlessly touring Europe — is my baseline for excellent circus. I’ll try not to draw direct comparisons.
La Soirée’s cast is world-class. The English Gents (Denis Lock and Hamish McCann) maintain a wonderful stiff-upper-lip shtick throughout their acrobatics. (I especially liked their sock suspenders.) McCann, soloing on pole, took our collective breath away with unrivalled strength and control. Nate Cooper practises calculated incompetence in unlaced roller-skates on the tiny stage, almost introducing the audiences to the sharp realities of his knife juggling. Amy G. (USA) is somehow both crass and elegant — and a very talented kazoo player. Particularly memorable are David O’Mer’s bath-time antics, which offer a fresh take on a couple of well-worn circus-burlesque acts.
We revisit the hide-the-hanky routine that acrobat Moses shook up Brisbane with in Cantina. Ursula Martinez (UK/Spain), the infamous originator of this act, is just as cheeky. Along with the nonchalant nudity of routines like these, there’s some cute genderplay. But after the spectacular (and very natural) queerness of shows like JiHa Underground, La Soirée feels a bit safe — or like it might be giggling behind its hands at what it thinks is quite naughty. Perhaps it’s the bright, bright lighting.
Captain Frodo (Norway) is the true star of the show, returning to Brisbane after his talents were sadly underused in last year’s The Dream Menagerie. A master of patter, the double-jointed wonder explains for us how he will contort his body through not one, but two tennis rackets simultaneously. Several of the other performers evoked “ohs” and “ooohs” from me. The only appropriate response to what Captain Frodo can do is “Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
With so many heart-stopping feats, more standard circus acts like Jess Love’s (hula hooping) and Miss Flea‘s (aerials) rather fade into the background — a shame, because there’s no less skill in this department. And you need some moments during which your heart beats at a reasonable rate.
Mr Frodo returns at the close with some pertinent career advice, and we the audience file out slowly, feeling very good. As a memento, I have a splashed water stain on my review notes courtesy of Mr O’Mer. La Soirée’s guaranteed to get you wet one way or another.
LA SOIRÉE runs at The Courier Mail Spiegeltent as part of Brisbane Festival. Until 29 Sep, 2012. http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au
ZENOBIA FROST (@zenfrost) has a PhD in burning the candle at both ends. She is a founding editor with OffStreet Press and is fond of strange myths, incisive verse, theatre, graveyards, tea, and editing.