Scotch & Soda
Judith Wright Centre
Judith Wright Centre Performance Space
November 19 – 28 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
CIRCUS. JAZZ. SERVED STRAIGHT UP.
I LOVE this show. I love this show as much as I love Woodford Folk Festival. And birthdays. AND CHRISTMAS. We saw it last during Brisbane Festival (September 2014). Company 2’s Scotch & Soda, featuring The Uncanny Carnival Band (with members from The Crusty Suitcase Band), is so full of simple joy and cheeky fun, we can’t help but forget everything else that’s happening. It’s the ideal show to take us away from the 24-hour news cycle and into a world in which there is nothing to fear or to feel disheartened about. Scotch & Soda celebrates simple human connections and acrobatic feats.
The mixology is perfect, a cocktail of circus and naughty late night backstage casual cabaret, tantalisingly blending jazz, acrobatics and carefully choreographed chaos. Slickly executed whilst retaining a sense of raw daring, Scotch & Soda is the delicious and fabulously changeable Ink Gin of contemporary circus.
Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry, with Kate Muntz, Skip Walker-Milne and Mozes create a hipster vaudeville vibe with the help of the heartbeat of the show, The Uncanny Carnival Band. These guys, originally from Sydney – Lucian McGuiness, Evan Mannell, Chris O’Dea, Eden Ottingnon & Matthew Ottingnon – turn this delightful show into a raucous past bedtime party.
That time Madonna shared a pic of Chelsea McGuffin walking across champagne bottles at her birthday party.
I love seeing – again and again – McGuffin famously walking across an array of glass bottles, including a magnum of Moet. McGuffin holds the Guinness World Record for the most upright glass bottles walked across (in case you’re wondering it was 51 bottles in 2012 at London Wonderground’s Spielgeltent!). This act becomes sweetly, drunkenly intimate when it’s repeated, McGuffin in an embrace with Muntz atop just 4 bottles. They tumble, laughing and falling about, and try again. I find it hard to believe that there are errors, despite Chelsea’s claim after the show that there were some “preview” things happening (appropriately, since it was a preview performance). This is clowning at its simple best. The art of misdirection is seen elsewhere, such as during Carberry’s bicycle feat, as he split-jumps over Muntz while she sustains the bicycle’s movement around the space a dizzying number of times.
A dance cum domestic between Carberry & McGuffin hasn’t the first-round vindictiveness about it but rather a more pleasing, joking feeling, as if somebody on the sidelines had shouted out during the original Scotch & Soda season, “Hey! That’s a bit rough!” It’s now a sassier, smarter routine, more neatly and efficiently showcasing the incredible skill sets of Carberry & McGuffin.
Muntz performs a beguiling rope act on a satisfyingly imperfect rope (in fact, it’s prettily frazzled), and with Mozes, a breathtaking trapeze duet. Later, Moses steals the spotlight for a solo trapeze turn to do what he does best: smash together strength, power and physical prowess as an acrobat with the comedy and superior confidence of a born entertainer (who started training for the circus at the age of 25). He reads the crowd and plays pointedly into our hands.
Spectacularly difficult to execute, although it looks almost simple enough to be a slapstick setup, a double act using an unfixed pole is largely dependent on a counter-balance arrangement between Carberry and Walker-Milne. Walker-Milne also features in a deceptively calm, extraordinarily careful balancing act on top of crates that are balanced on suitcases balanced on boxes balanced on bottles, placed gingerly on top of a table. The delicacy, strength and poise with which this act is delivered elicits horrified gasps and squeals of delight before sighs of genuine relief to see Walker-Milne safe and sound once more on the ground.
A less successful act requires Roxy the circus dog to perform tricks in a magically raised black marquee but I prefer the delicacy and gentle magic of the original act, which used birds and alluded to so much more than what was able to be seen. A more poignant moment this time comes when saxophonist Chris O’Dea steps onto a tiny turning timber disc and into the spotlight to serenade us with a solo that starts as a transition between acts, and becomes the featured act before melting away again into the next transition. The moment remains a highlight of the show, unlike its odd and ill fitting inclusion in the original season. All-new compositions have come from The Uncanny Carnival Band, and with just a couple of hours to rehearse the latest score together with the circus acts, there is no doubt that these musos are also some of the country’s best performing artists, as much a part of the spectacle as the acrobats are.
Three children in the audience enjoy the show as much as any adult and accept the silly comedy of momentary nudity like pros, the accompanying adults not quite as sure how to respond. (It’s funny, Mum!). But that’s the thing about live theatre – we’ll all respond differently – and it’s exactly why we must take children to experience it. It’s in the most troubled times that we most need art and the magic of theatre, to ponder, to play, to remember, to heal, to dream, to escape, to come back together again…
Company 2 and The Uncanny Carnival Band are some of the most genuine and generous entertainers I’ve seen up close. Their hearts and souls shine bright in this show and they’ve a lot more to give yet – remember, we saw the preview performance. Before they take off again to continue to conquer the world (their next stop, a return season at Woodford Folk Festival), leave your worries at the door and get amongst the old-fashioned, real-deal death-defying fun of Scotch & Soda.