Frank Barnes


Cirque Du Soleil
The Blue and Yellow Grand Chapiteau (Big Top)
The Showring at the Entertainment Quarter

They say there is nothing like ‘“the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd”. Yes, it’s circus time again and this time Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil delivers in spades in this beautiful, exhilarating and highly enjoyable show.

I have seen its shows here and overseas and both in its Grand Top as well as a couple of arena shows. I did not like the Michael Jackson show much but then I don’t really like Michael Jackson. This is by far the most satisfying of the shows I have seen by the company.

As in all the shows, the production standards are exemplary. Costumes, lighting and music are always brilliant and this show is no exemption.

The story starts with the arrival of a box that contains a kite. The Innocent tries to fly the kite, led on by The Trickster. Kooza means “treasure in a box” and it is the “circus in a box” that is opened at the beginning and takes us on a journey that starts with three marvellous clowns who include the audience in their fun. They are there to set up each act and to keep the audience occupied as the safety equipment is set in place.

Being thrown into the air while on stilts and then onto other performers’ shoulders is breathtaking and that is the key to this show. Each act is a feat of athleticism and grace, and in this show they seem to push each act to the limits. The old showbiz premise is that you leave the audience wondering if the act can possibly go a step further — and these performers do.

One of the glorious things about Cirque is the Gallic style brought to each production. Each act comes after a stylish change of setup. There is never a moment when the audience does not have something on which to focus. The band and singers are always an integral part of the company’s shows. I often buy the CD to play in the car.

After the beautiful opening and the exquisite trio of contortionists we had an amazing duo on a unicycle, the guy climbing atop way too many chairs, the wire act where the four performers seem to goad each other to take ever more dangerous turns climbing atop each other as they walk or run across the wires and then ride bikes.

By far the most exciting act is the Wheel of Death where two “hamster” wheels rotate powered by the performers. The moments when they are outside the wheel, jumping and skipping and faux-falling, are scary, the ultimate circus experience. The audience was loud in expressing its fear and excitement. The final big act was the teeter board where the performers use seesaw boards to propel others into the air and onto shoulders and then continue with stilts and a unistilt. At our performance there were a few misses, adding to the excitement. (The wonderful Circus Oz had a rule where missed moments always had to be attempted again until achieved.)

The finale brought us back to The Innocent and his kite ... goodbye, cruel world, I’m off to join the circus!

Hidden Sydney — The Glittering Mile

One of the dames from Les Girls in The Cross portrayed in Hidden Sydney - The Glittering Mile

An original concept by Olivia Ansell and Wendy Richards
Writers: Trevor Ashley, Ray Badran, Nikki Britton, Benito Di Fonzo
Director: Lucas Jervies Live Ideas, Working Management, City of Sydney Arts and About
The old Nevada Brothel at the rear of The World Bar

I knew nothing of this show (event) until I saw it advertised on Facebook. I booked immediately and am so glad I did as it is one of those rare experiences that people need to enjoy, either to relive parts of your life or learn about our not-so-distant past. I lived in The Cross for two periods during the late 60s and early 70s and this was very much part of my experience.

The show starts in a back street reached from walking down Roslyn Lane where you find a pop-up restaurant and box office. Most nights there are four “shows” starting at half-hour intervals. After obtaining a wrist tag and lining up in the lane you are given a bit of history by a “local” bouncer-like character.

While this is happening a derelict man who has been rummaging through the garbage urinates in the gutter and a car speeds up the lane with a screaming drag queen, and a worker from a nearby Chinese restaurant screaming at her. A police car races up to try and control the situation. The slimy cop tries to chat up some of the women and finds drugs on some of the men. The scene is set for what follows as we are led into the first space.

Suddenly, we are in the dressing room at Les Girls. One of the drag queens preparing for the next show chats with us. We learn about Carlotta and the patrons, and the scene is set for life in The Cross at that time.

In the background, a singer with a guitar sings about the times, a reminder to me of the many, many hours spent in the Piccolo café just around the corner. As the drag queen leaves to start her show we move to the next space, a bar attended by a bartender who deals in drugs.

Up another set of stairs, we enter The Carousel Club where a variety of characters let us in on what they know about Juanita Nielson. Juanita, a conservationist and local activist, was never seen again after visiting the club on July 4, 1975. I knew a journalist who was covering this story at the time who had to have 24-hour police protection. This scene plays out with the characters airing many of the theories long held by many people about her presumed murder. I won’t tell you what those are as I want you to see the show.

Up another two flights of stairs and we enter a coven, a bedroom with candles and an enormous satin-covered bed on which “The Witch of Kings Cross”, Rosaleen Norton, is indulging in some of her “sex magic” with an almost naked hunk.

Moving from this enchanted scene we are accosted by the well-known eccentric, Bea Miles, who in her usual manner tries to bludge money from us while telling us about some of her infamous exploits including the taxi ride to Perth. This was a brilliant turn by Victoria Gay.

We then head into a brothel where we are the girls being inspected by a plain-clothed cop who is after a girl for the night. Then finally up to The Silver Spade nightclub in the Chevron Hotel.

The Silver Spade was “the” club where the topliners performed. Here we see Bobby Darin, with a surprise visit from Judy Garland. We have a quick drink and then it is over and out the door we go to realise we are now back into the reality of Kings Cross today.

This is one of the best interactive shows I have seen. If you go with it, it is an ultimate experience. It is fun as well as educative and, at times, confronting. Being inspected by the plain-clothed cop for a possible bout of sex was quite daunting.

I highly recommend Hidden Sydney — The Glittering Mile, on show until November 20.

I have seen many more shows and some of the best seen this year, starting with the best A Midsummer Night’s Dream I have seen. The Sydney Theatre Company has hit the heights with this work.

No production I have seen in the past had ever come near the 1971 Peter Brook production from England that played at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown. The STC production, directed by Kip Williams, surpassed that by taking a dark approach to the main story only to make the Mechanicals play even funnier.

Also at the STC was Powerplay, a wonderful experiment where five female writers presented plays for and about women. I loved it and hope that more of this is done in the future.

Belvoir has had a big hit with Leah Purcell’s new interpretation of the Henry Lawson poem, “The Drover’s Wife”. Purcell has taken the poem and turned it into a story of the hardships and horror of the life of an Aboriginal woman in the bush. This was tough story-telling. I did not enjoy it as much as others as I don’t always enjoy Leah’s acting style: I find it forced, I am always aware that she is acting. But there is no doubt this will become an important part of the Australian library of plays.

Downstairs at Belvoir did not fare as well with children’s play Ruby’s Wish: it did not seem quite finished but was enjoyable — unlike the two plays I saw from The Sydney Fringe. I won’t even bother to give you the titles.

I do, however, want to recommend the National Theatre Live shows which now seem to be getting a wide (but short) release.

I recently caught up with Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, for which I had been unable to get tickets in London. While the film will never be as good as being there it is as good as you will get.

Coming up next month is Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. I have seen this as I booked months before my trip and am looking forward to seeing it again. It is the best production I have seen of this brilliant show.

Frank Barnes is retired in Paradise on the mid-north Coast and looking forward to seeing Marat/Sade at the New Theatre