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Review: Circus Oz – But Wait…There’s More

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For some, the circus can conjure tears with scenes of scary clowns and malnourished lions.

Yet at the opening of Circus Oz’s ‘But Wait…There’s More’, I had tears in my eyes from a touching display of two acrobats aboard a unicycle; after a gently building crescendo of action, the pair nailed a spectacular feat, climbing and twirling while the precarious cycle wove circles across the stage.

The Circus Oz team have developed a remarkable ability to communicate through muscle. Sometimes flying through the air with a potential broken neck just a split second’s misjudgement away, there were shakes of nervous energy from some, but no trace of hesitation or fear, with an immense amount of trust placed in the waiting hands of co-performers.

The chemistry between the Circus Oz crew is a treat to witness. It’s as if Circus Oz are a big, caring and welcoming family (and having been operating out of Melbourne since 1978, the circus is now a part of Melbourne’s arts and cultural family too). Circus Oz is a darling in Melbourne’s performing arts scene, with each show consistently pushing creative – and physical – boundaries.

Performed under a big top tent, the charm of the old world is strong in the costumes and decor, but they seem to be the only traditional elements of the spectacularly innovative ‘But Wait…There’s More’. Nothing about the show is ornamental: from the moment we are ushered into the tent, the performance has already begun thanks to the charming and engaging ushers, some of whom pointed us to our seats, some just roaming, chatting, joking, and interacting with the audience.

Later in the show, it added another element of excitement to realise, with a glimmer of recognition, that the girl who showed us to our seats was flying through the air on a trapeze. Circus Oz don’t just perform in front of you, they’ll invite you into their zany universe resembling one big magical illusion.

Truly pushing the limits of the human body’s strength and flexibility, not to mention bravery, the twists, lifts, jumps and contortions of the Circus Oz crew left an impression less of a circus and mores of the “freak shows” of old-world carnivals. From masses of hoola hoops, mind-bending acrobatics, an ankle-twisting juggling show to treating a bike like a raging bull, throughout the show this crew raised the question: ‘How does your body even do that?’  

WIthin the cyclone circus were woven gags with clever social commentary. In the program, Circus Oz describes the inspiration for the concept as “the rising sea-levels of data and ‘stuff’, the rise of ‘infobesity’, acceleration, choice-mania and ‘consumanity’. The seemingly endless acceleration of data and information”. Tongue-in-cheek references to reality television contest shows were set against satirical hip-hop remixes, at times overtly criticising a modern culture of over-consumption and the short attention spans of internet audiences where yes, no, ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ are a simply a button or a swipe this way or that.  

Some of these gags erred on the cheesy side, and the overarching theme became laboured and tiresome after a two-and-a-half-hour show. The overall tone was of wackiness, which was hard to stomach at times. But Circus Oz keeps audiences guessing, jumping in tone and approach to chaotic effect. There’s a rawness to this troupe, adding to the element of spontaneity. At one point the extravagantly hilarious singer giggled into her microphone before a particular out-there part of a song, in a heartwarming falter which added to the sense that Circus Oz is a group of mates, testing their performance limits together and having a lot of fun while doing it.

Circus rehearsal must be gruelling, years of practice honing performance perfection. The awe-inspiring displays of physicality, teamed with a warning about the dumbing-down of the digital age of “infobesity”, allows ‘But Wait…There’s More’, as well as an energetically engaging and infectious display of fun, to be a reminder of the joy of switching off from online distractions or mindless consumerism for just a couple of hours. And maybe even doing some stretches.

But Wait There’s More runs under the Heated Big Top, Birrarrung Marr, until July 13.

Reviewed by Bec Fary, June 2014

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