With the holiday and Festival season coming up there are many great shows on the horizon. Since last edition I have had the pleasure of the best Belvoir show of the year, Eamon Flack’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov.
It was a brilliantly conceived Aussiefied version which matches beautifully the Andre Upton version of The Present, also by Chekhov. Both were great productions of rarely-performed plays and gave us performances from some great artists.
The Sydney Theatre Company is about to present its final show for this season, King Lear with Geoffrey Rush, having just finished a wonderful production of Shaw’s Arms and The Man. Also, currently playing at the STC is Orlando, a valiant take of Virginia Woolf’s strange story of her relationship with Vita Sackville-West. It doesn’t quite work but has a terrific central performance by Jacqueline McKenzie.
But I want to finish the year looking at theatre purely as entertainment and, in this case, through what seems like a newish genre of circus/burlesque/cabaret.
While I say it is newish it is, of course, rather oldish. “Bread and circuses” has been a staple of entertainment for many centuries, often established by governments. I suspect the renaissance was started by Cirque de Soleil becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
Some years ago, Sydneysiders were introduced to the Spiegeltent. One of the first shows was the wonderful Smoke and Mirrors starring iOTA and directed by Craig Ilott. At the same time, La Soiree was playing at the Opera House and packing them in.
The mixture of cabaret, circus and burlesque combining wild comedy with the excitement of spectacular circus (and a bar) with music caught the imagination of young Sydney audiences. Because the magic occurs on a circular stage that is only 2m in diameter the audience feels it can almost touch the performers.
The structures of the shows remind me of a bus tour of Harlem in New York where, apart from the tour guide commenting relentlessly on the property market, we visited a church service that had everything you would expect from it: a preacher who bible thumps like in the movies, a choir and a congregation of people dressed to the nines with the women in enormous flowery hats.
The service went on for hours (I didn’t) with a sort of DJ playing a humming sort of music that very gradually increased in rhythm, volume and excitement. By the time of the “surprise” visit from the local politician (they have no problem preaching party politics) the place was humming and the congregation getting to their feet and professing. It was completely directed and controlled.
These shows are exactly the same but much greater fun. La Clique with “the man in the bath”, Empire, Club Swizzle and Absinthe all follow the same pattern although I found the comedians in Absinthe tasteless and unfunny. During the Sydney Festival we will see a new show, Blanc de Blanc, at the Opera House.