QPAC & Circus Oz
April 12 – 15 2017
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Melbourne’s Circus Oz, under new Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, returns to QPAC after an absence of some years (you might remember Steampowered in 2011) with a wink, tongue in cheek and two thumbs up, in Model Citizens, a boldly conceptualised, powerfully political look at what it means to be a resident in our lucky country.
In a beautifully designed (Michael Baxter), dramatically lit (Sian James-Holland) model-kit playground of oversized ordinary objects, this newly assembled troupe surpasses expectations, bringing their entertaining physical feats and cheeky Aussie humour to the Playhouse stage for a strictly limited season. It’s a shame it hasn’t enjoyed a longer run right through our school holidays.
This is not so much a new direction for Circus Oz – they’ve always been politically and socially cheeky and funny, and had the band on stage and performed all the tricks – but more a refinement of the mischievous, clever form, which takes the most entertaining and exciting elements from circus, cabaret, dance and theatre, and combines them to create a refreshingly different circus style. The real difference here is Tannion’s uncanny ability to fuse concept, design elements and content, making Model Citizens a more polished show than we’ve seen previously, and without having an actual narrative, is just about as seamless as circus gets.
In an Arts Review interview last year, Tannion noted, “Having a broader pool of artists to draw from will open the possibility for numerous and concurrent collaborations for shows and acts that may evolve into intimate smaller shows, site specific performances or develop into our Big Top productions … This will continue to challenge our preconceptions of the creative process and expectations of what our audiences will see and experience on stage.”
Tannion’s dance and choreographic background comes through in both the fast-paced super busy sequences, with the performers running and leaping and balancing and tumbling all over the place, and in moments of relative stillness, such as the opening sequence when we find ourselves grinning at ironically stereotypical frozen statues that come alive and eerily, like mannequins or Stepford Wives, peer at the emcee Mitch Jones AKA Captain Ruin, and run away from him, playing a sort of hide-and-seek-milling-and-seething ensemble game. Just to note, in case you’ve also gone back to school and ended up studying composition this year, Tannion’s direction is the best application of the Viewpoints I’ve seen in a while (only Natalie Weir’s work with EDC regularly does anything remotely similar). It’s an interesting, discerning use of triangular floor space, and giant everyday objects, including a peg, a cotton reel and a safety pin.
The giant safety pin serves as our Chinese Poles (actually opening and shutting with the weight and agility of the performers, a brilliant realisation of design and purpose) and an enormous pair of Bridget Jones’ knickers provides a unique take on a classic aerial act, with silks dropping from overhead on a peg. A balancing act on a house of oversized credit cards has us considering our economic situation when, proudly and precariously teetering at the top, Luke Ha is offered yet another card i.e. more credit, which, to the delight of the audience, he adamantly refuses.
Jones as Captain Ruin, heavily inked and sporting a pink punk mohawk, a gold tooth and a tutu, sings and roller-skates and gets himself out of a straitjacket in record time, which we’ve seen a good friend do too, sure, but not whilst hanging upside down by his ankles! Jones is irreverent and enigmatic, irresistible, driving the show and stitching many of its pieces together.
The most surprisingly erotically charged knife throwing act ever sees the bewitching Freya Edney ducking and weaving, then blindfolding Jones to finish the act. Her hoop act astounds and then, upping the anti, a giant roue cyr (cyr wheel) is manipulated by another performer while the ensemble members roll bowling balls around him.
A series of silly puns throughout the show have us groaning in a good way, and the original songs elicit raised eyebrows, some dropped jaws, wide eyes, and lots of raucous laughter. A small herd of sheep causes hysterics in the audience at the beginning of Act 2 as a sheep dog rounds them up and puts them into their pen, which also holds a Webber barbecue and Captain Ruin. In an undeniably Amanda Palmeresque performance style, Edney plays ukulele and sings straight-faced about how tolerant and accepting we are of others, “but not in my backyard.” The undercurrent of pseudo-political correctness and self righteousness is, unfortunately, easily recognisable and appeals to the collective sense of humour on opening night. Jeremy Hopkins and MD Ania Reynolds add heightened energy and sass on stage as well as strong musicianship skills.
Historically, Circus Oz has found it difficult to resist having a go at the world’s most famous circus since Barnum & Bailey, Cirque du Soleil, and refreshingly this time, rises above the seemingly typical Australian need to take a swing in their direction. This time no reference or comparison is made. Circus Oz has grown up and gotten confident, claiming their space in the contemporary Australian circus arena.
Model Citizens boasts a beautiful sense of childlike playfulness and innocence without forsaking any of the sheer thrill we expect from circus, and on the other hand, offers a wizened, wry look at the way we see ourselves. It’s perfect whole family fun at an affordable price, right here in our own backyard.
Model Citizens features the many and varied talents of Freya Edney, Jake Silvestro, Jarred Dewey, Jeremy Hopkins, Lachlan Sukroo, Luke Ha, Mitch Jones, Olivia Porter, Rose Chalker-McGann & Steph Mouat.