Posts Tagged ‘chelsea mcguffin





Judith Wright Centre & Company 2 supported by Flipside Circus

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

April 6 – 9 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Sometimes the heart breaks and cracks open because so much love is bursting through.

– Ethan Wharton-Langridge

Kaleidoscope is a remarkable circus show that hopes to bring to life the colour, chaos and incredible beauty of Ethan’s everyday life.

– Chelsea McGuffin


“Everyday life is full of wonder. Even the lighting changing from white and plain to beautiful colour reflects the beauty of the little things that make Ethan’s life possibly better than our own… When the lighting reflects on the ceiling it’s like a dream…”

 Poppy Eponine

This show is pure love. It’s play and love and laughter, and kids supporting kids just by being with each other, near each other, adoring each other before judging each other. It’s a valuable reminder of so many things.

The kids are sleeping – or trying to sleep – tossing and turning, climbing over each other and resettling, and while we see them moving across the floor the live feed filmed from above creates an optical illusion, projected onto the scrim, turning the kids into scrambling superheroes with the power to leap and fly through the air. Their floor tower crumbles, and the boy at the highest point flaps his chicken wing arms to stay afloat above it all, before a new tower reforms and he takes his place at the top again.

The kids disperse and a phone rings. Ethan moves to pick up the handset of a Bakelite phone, although it takes a little while to get to it with the other performers in the way, and we enjoy lovely interactions as he finds a different way around each one before reading a monologue that answers many of our questions as the show begins: he sees the world differently, people see him differently; he leads a different life.


When Ethan was four years old he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (ASD). His mum, Johanna Wharton, wrote a book about his day-to-day life and this show brings to life Chelsea McGuffin’s imagining of those daily experiences.

…Ethan has been poked, prodded, analysed, attended three different schools. He is underweight, hearing impaired and has adult teeth arriving in all directions. Our household has been through screaming, squealing, squeezing, bouncing, obsessions, disappearances, sleepless years, diets, hospitals, surgeries and all things unexplainable and unidentifiable. But I do not want to tell those stories. Because between the lines is a little boy who is articulate, eccentric, expressive, engaging and brave.

Through his uniqueness he brings clarity to our complicated lives. He brings joy outside the limits of our routine and revelation that cannot be measured. Through his uniqueness he dispels our walls of safety. One day, I saw him mesmerized by the droplets of water dripping from the tap, and I decided to watch a droplet too… I was taken into his world…silent and magnified. Pure. It is the nature of something beautiful, wild, untamable, inspiring.

The show is a typically eclectic mix: balance acts, a pole act of strength and control to rival some adult performances, and an elegant aerial hoop routine set mysteriously in a corner of long white hanging pieces, which are pulled aside by the performers. Performers’ bodies become the floor for Ethan to walk across. The acts all involve Ethan to some extent. The kids clearly adore him.


This is an amazing ensemble of young circus performers, a tight-knit team who obviously care for one another, and take Ethan under their collective wing. That safe space feels expansive – it’s very hard to stay in our seats and resist running down to jump and play in a mass of feathers, the glorious result of a pillow fight! Pre-recorded footage plays across the scrim, gorgeous, joyous images of the performers pillow fighting and laughing and living in the moment.

As Ethan rides a stationary bicycle centrestage we watch more stunning images, this time a beautifully created paper collage streetscape. The edges of this part of the world are torn and nothing looks quite as perfect as we might imagine – or remember – it to be. The action in front is fast-paced and hilarious, but the imagery has a nostalgic feel. We don’t make the connection between the bicycle and the images until after the show, when McGuffin assures me she will find a way to feature the pedal-powered projector in a future production. The ensemble run and race and leapfrog and tumble to keep up with Ethan on his bike, and take turns to catch up and jump up and strike precarious poses before the segment abruptly comes to an end, as if the director has suddenly shouted, “CUT!”. The kids shrug and smile and move into their next positions.


I love the costumes, which are reversible: simple cotton frocks tied twice (at the back and front), which are flipped, turning the stark white into bright colours and bold patterns. After so much time spent in Ethan’s sphere, how could one not become this colourful?

But one girl wears a dress that is white on both sides – she’s confounded by the lack of colour when it comes time to reverse it – but it’s white for a purpose. We watch as she sits gingerly on the stool and plays the toy piano. It’s pink, and its cute plinks are the chords of the piece we’ve just heard in a musical routine involving a xylophone and eerie wine glasses. The kids paint her so that when she performs her aerial (tissue) act she leaves a rainbow on the fabric. The impact Ethan has on all their lives. The impact any child has on all our lives, but particularly of those who see the world as Ethan does, in tiny fragments of colour, magnified, magnificent.

Under the guidance of Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry, Flipside and Company 2 have discovered a perfect match of energies, minds and hearts. Kaleidoscope is a heartfelt exploration of seemingly random tiny moments, which exist for all of us, but are noticed by few.


Final performances today at 2pm and 7:30pm.




Scotch & Soda


Scotch & Soda

Judith Wright Centre

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

November 19 – 28 2015


 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward






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.


Scotch and Soda at London Wonderground! from Company 2 on Vimeo.






Company 2

Judith Wright Centre

November 4 – 8 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over 
the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth!”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground and combining the physical world of acrobatics and dance with an original live score from Ben Walsh which features the Theremin, amongst other interesting and unusual instruments. Sediment is Company 2’s new three hand theatre work, directed by David Carberry in Collaboration with Ben Walsh and Chelsea McGuffin; in which these three seasoned artists explore themes of truth, adversity, amity and affray.




It’s no surprise that a thing of unusual beauty and delicate strength, Sediment, comes to us from Chelsea McGuffin’s Company 2 (Scotch and Soda, She Would Walk the Sky, Cantina), and comes upon us like a summer storm in an attic. There is static – in the air and on an old television screen that periodically rolls out Dostoyevsky’s words – and rumbling thunder in the twitching, muscular beginning, all funny faces and the somewhat familiar struggle to sit comfortably on a wooden cabaret chair. Then there are lightning flashes – teases and surprises – pages that fly and flutter like Harry Potter’s letters, chairs that magically follow the performers onstage and off, an actual magic trick, and a glass bowl drum kit on a blanket. A steady downpour and gentle rain comes in the form of extended percussion sequences across an old fashioned office desk, a typewriter, and later, the array of glassware. Each musical piece is a delight, and thrilling in the most unexpected, unassuming way; a crumpled piece of paper becomes an entire soundtrack. The typewriter sequence is looped live, and the the glass bowl arrangement is set out like a picnic, a prelude to rain, as simple and gentle as a child’s quiet game set up on the grass in the back yard, the bowls forgotten, left to catch the drops of water as they fall from the sky. The final number, a soft shoe shuffle performed centrestage in a sprinkling of sand, which Carberry empties from his pockets whilst standing on his hands, is impressive but it leads to an anti-climactic (some will say thoughtful and thought provoking) end.


What is truth? Indeed.


Chelsea McGuffin and her partner in life and art, David Carberry, demonstrate the subtle, silent and increasingly forceful manipulation of one partner in a relationship. I’m not sure that this is exactly the story they will feel they intended to stage but for me it’s very clearly a tender, bitter battle. The most disturbing aspect of a beautifully passive aggressive pas de deux for instance, is that we recognise the efforts of both parties to come out on top while knowing, with that sudden chill one feels when one suspects a friend is in trouble, that only one can “win” in this situation. Is it the thrower or the one thrown? When McGuffin, after a fast, fraught sequence, turns her back on her partner and exits stage left in no particular hurry, I’m inclined to think it’s she.




We see the exquisite balance of the same intimate relationship put to the test by the individuals, on the trapeze and over glass. I love the sound the bottles make as they are rolled out into the space, across the floor from the wings. (Cue sound, then let us see its source). Danger and fragility pervade, as man and woman step gingerly across the tops of empty champagne bottles to meet in the middle and (almost, sort of) embrace. Even at their most intimate, there is distance between them. We’ve seen the trick before, but not like this. It’s a slow motion moment, vaguely reminiscent (but not really) of the famous Dirty Dancing sequence… (I love it so I’m embedding it!)





And probably only because of the bottles on stage (and okay, perhaps because of the delicacy of the relationship), I cast my mind back to the days and nights spent with actors in a tiny workers’ cottage in Paddington. Oh no, we weren’t working, we were studying and no one had any money for food, though there always seemed to be money for beer. Someone – probably Clayton – had started keeping the empty Hahn Ice bottles around the little concrete patio, serving as a garden border. Of course there was no garden, just the back patio and a Hills Hoist. Our impressive “empties” collection was all that grew in that place. The relationships developed awkwardly; everyone was there to serve their own agenda and their own beers unless someone asked someone to get them one. Years later, only recently in fact, Clayton and I stepped towards each other from opposite lives to spend time once again talking over a few beers, balancing for hours on our memories of past lives.




Sediment’s musical element is crucial; it sets up every act and provides intrigue, awe and wonder. It’s a fantastic showcase for Ben Walsh – he’s made it so – with a couple of highlights all his own. (The Theremin! And the drum bowls, seriously, will blow your mind and settle your soul; a kitchen meditation). His tendency to dramatise even the slightest sound is testament to his musical ability, timing & perfect confidence as a performer. I can imagine he might have been the distracting, disarming, amazing kid in the classroom whose spirit you would not want to crush! His is a bold, patient presence, befitting Company 2’s vibe. I think it’s worth noting that despite the different requirements, he brings his own easy style to these proceedings with a greater degree of sophistication and control than we saw in Scotch and Soda. I look forward to seeing more of this side of Walsh.


If you’ve seen their work you’ll recognise the Company 2 elements and appreciate the degree of difficulty in these performances, making Sediment an engrossing, entertaining and challenging show. It’s circus changing the face of circus and it’s worth your attention.


Sediment from Company 2 on Vimeo.


Scotch and Soda




Scotch and Soda

Brisbane Festival & Judith Wright Centre

Judith Wright Centre

September 23 -27 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Well, this is a bit of fun! A hit at Woodford Folk Festival last year and at Sydney Festival earlier this year, Scotch and Soda (not the fashion label) is a collaborative effort by Company 2 and the Crusty Suitcase Band, with support for the Brisbane Festival season from the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program. I didn’t see Company 2’s Cantina during Brisbane Festival last year but I love, love, loved She Would Walk the Sky, commissioned for WTF 2014. Chelsea McGuffin, director and performer, in her only Director’s Note, simply invites us in to join the company for some fun, so if you read the program notes (and you know I do), we are ready! Bring it on!


We walk into what’s billed as a “speakeasy” but to me, having only ever experienced the speakeasyness of Motherboard’s Underground, this gorgeous, vintage-ish, circus-ish backstage-ish space (try saying it ten times fast!) feels like any venue at Woodford Folk Festival, which is great; I miss it every year until it comes around again (and it’s coming around again! Hooray!). I stop and breathe in, expecting to get a whiff of incense. Nope. Ah well, nevertheless it’s a wonderful sensory experience, the carnival space jumping with the same feel-good vibes and excitement you get at Woodford when walking through the site late at night, or when a headline act doesn’t come on for another hour and you’re already set up with friends, beers and a selection of international cuisine in paper tubs. Of course you ate the Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts while you were waiting for the Langos… #truestory #notproudofit #dessertfirst


This show is one big late-night-all-night party.


Every night during a festival anywhere, and particularly at Woodfordia during the folk festival, you’ll hear similar riotous fun. In fact, we did! Musicians become acrobats and the acrobats are musicians too. Here, it’s the ridiculously talented percussionist, Ben Walsh, who leads a merry band – bohemian looking Beverly Hillbillies meets Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (You sang that, didn’t you? I always do too). These guys are all too talented to care much about cleanliness or matching pants (or reliable stayupable pants). At least, that’s the gimmick.




The show is a succession of daring and amusing shenanigans, eliciting gasps and guffaws from the audience. Not your usual festival crowd, in fact, a distinctly non-theatrical crowd, rather like we saw walk in off the street to see our 2008 production of Shout! Wearing jeans and t-shirts, most of them thought they were coming in to see a movie! But is this the new circus crowd I see before me? I hope so! Circus and good gangster dub afro gypsy swing is for everyone!


We ooh and ahh, admiring the classic circus acts, including balancing, tumbling, cycling and flying. Transitions involve the necessary set ups, Mozes on home made clodhopper roller skates, and a couple of card games. One such card game evolves swiftly into a mini brawl, which becomes an entertaining, toe-tapping percussion session utilising the various boxes and suitcases also used in a tabletop construction for a balancing act, and a strange and probably unnecessary clarinet solo. A clowning routine towards the end of the show, thinly veiled behind cheeky characters and a loose love triangle becomes an aggressive game of catch. Um. Yes. It’s McGuffin the boys are throwing and catching. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s actually a little unsettling and would have made a more interesting and exciting finale than the jumps and board tricks, which, to be fair, may have looked more impressive from the floor.


Hmmm… A note to producers and venues: QPAC this does not apply to you, having always designated appropriate seating to your reviewers, thanks. Everybody else, consider where you seat your reviewers. Especially for “General Seating” ticketed shows. Just saying.


The only woman in the company, McGuffin stands out; her strength is mighty and her smile is wicked sweet, like Little Red with a fake ID in her pocket and an extra bottle of whiskey in her basket. (We know that whiskey’s not for Granny). If every performer invested half as much character and sass as McGuffin and Mozes the Scotch and Soda stakes would be raised through the roof. The strength and control in the trapeze acts Mozes performs makes him the other standout. His comedy is in turns tongue-in-cheek and slightly lewd…I love it! He’s the epitome of the bizarre, beguiling circus performer. Did you know he didn’t even start any circus training until turning 25?!




Sometimes a smile is just not enough to sell such daring feats, many of which are not new, but need to appear so, or at least appear more daring than we remember them to be. At least the pace is quick, the acts are neat and the live band is fabulous. Wait. What is with the long, quiet lead-in to the show? (And does Walsh’s drunk entrance really work?). Why does the band not play a set as we enter the space and take our seats? Why do they not play us out? We would happily have heard much more from them, and for my hot date, a friend of Woodfordia and the Festival of Small Halls, the Crusty Suitcase Band was the absolute highlight of the evening. Clearly, in that camp, there’s no man crush on Mozes.


Despite its tame tone and perhaps because of its sweetness masquerading as a-little-bit-naughty nature, Scotch and Soda is the most fun at the circus you’ll have this festival. It’s a show I would expect to see in any city in any country in the world, or – note for Sam – at my next birthday party. Thanks, honey! And if you ever catch Company 2 and the Crusty Suitcase Band as separate entities, I ‘reckon you’re in for another couple of rollicking good nights. In the meantime, get to the bar before the show and not during (#youidiotstimpy #sitdowninfront #itsa70minuteshow #youcanwait), and enjoy some Scotch and Soda!




She Would Walk The Sky WTF14


WTF 2014 Brisbane Powerhouse


February 13 – 23 2014


She Would Walk The Sky

Company 2

Brisbane Powerhouse

Turbine Platform

February 14 – 23 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




An acclaimed Australian playwright and a world-class contemporary circus ensemble combine to create this acrobatic odyssey.


Combining the beautiful prose of multi-award-winning playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer (The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy) and the talents of critically-acclaimed circus performer and director Chelsea McGuffin (Cantina, Circa), She Would Walk the Sky is a special commission inspired by the theatricality and scale of Brisbane Powerhouse.


A story told above, in and around the audience, She Would Walk The Sky sees new fables and old myths unfold in the vaulted halls of Brisbane Powerhouse. Leave behind the world you know and enter a land where old fires, lost dreams and new hopes linger amidst the broken skies of an old empire.




Oh wow, what a magnificent finale to WTF14! Chelsea McGuffin’s She Would Walk The Sky, commissioned for Brisbane Powerhouse, is indeed an odyssey, taking us on a strange and exotic journey from the Turbine Platform to a place in a parallel universe, inhabited by birds and circus artists.


It’s an 8:30pm show on a school night, much too late for Poppy – she’s been to two shows in two days already – but she insisted on seeing this one, the last offering from this year’s festival and I’m grateful she experienced it. This is a different sort of circus. Circus is so often bright and shiny and colourful – we are so used to Cirque’s style now (my sister just took off on the USA tour of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil!), and while She Would Walk The Sky is by no means a show without the colour and texture and tone and shine and finesse of exquisite technique and trust (not to mention gorgeous costumes by Tigerlil, intriguing writing by Finegan Krickmeyer and artful direction by McGuffin), it lays claim to a slightly different aspect of circus performance, harking back to the original vaudeville acts, blending storytelling, intense relationships, performance art and acrobatics to create something very special, and somehow, a little bit eerie.




The tricks are, of course, fabulous, demonstrating superior strength, balance and perfect timing, which rivals just about anything we’ve seen under the Grand Chapiteau, only in here, in this versatile space inside the Powerhouse, it’s such an intimate experience that we try to stop ourselves even from breathing, let alone gasping under our breath! When incredibly skilled performers like Mozes step into the spotlight, this is an almost impossible challenge, especially when his daring acts are backed by the stirring music played live by performers, and the musicians and composers, Trent Arkleysmith and Sue Simpson. The intensity is heightened because every other performer also has their eyes glued on Mozes as he spins and drops; it’s a fine lesson in focus and only one example of the tone of some parts of the show. On the flip side, there is lovely humour in the piece, and delicate, well-studied movement by Alex Mizzen, who has not only acquired the ticks and flicks of a gentle, beautiful, fragile birdlike creature, but has donned enormous eyelashes to make her look like Amazing Mayzie’s coy little sister.




The show is emceed by a rather clownish host, the youngest of the troupe, who confounds us with bits and pieces of prose, unfinished thoughts and definitive statements about the future of two of the performers (nothing comes of their pairing in the show, they will never end up together, nothing will come of it!), turning upon its head the notion of the ringmaster who is always in control. One of the most poignant moments of the show is felt when a heavy length of rope drops from above and continues to fall on top of him, burying him beneath its weight. At first it’s funny, but then the joke goes beyond, and somehow it becomes a forlorn observation on the fruitlessness of even trying at life. I almost cry. Is it just me? I have no doubt that I would have a different reading of the entire piece if I were to see it again.




I love this – and this is actually why I read the program notes, just for these gems – the intuitive writer, Kruckmeyer, has “given them some words, and left them to walk the sky.” He says, “It’s always a nice thing to give words (so static and wishing for life) to actors (so alive and waiting for words). But to give words to circus performers is something else entirely…”


“As humans, we balance, we fall, we are lifted, we are not. We fear for others, and we rejoice in what they do.”


She Would Walk The Sky is evocative of anything lovely and sad you’ve ever remembered, and I can’t wait to experience it again sometime soon.


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