Monday, September 2, 2013

Circus: Cranked Up

Circus Oz
Performed by Ania Reynolds, Bec Matthews, Spenser Inwood, Vince Van Berkel, Carl Polke, Dale Woodbridge, Hazel Bock, Jez Davies, Kai Johnson-Peady, Mark Sheppard, Mason West and Stevee Mills
His Majesty’s Theatre
October 28 - 31, 2013

Mark Sheppard
I remember tagging along with Melbourne’s Soapbox Circus, and especially their funny, sport-mad strongman Greig (who later abandoned first names in favour of the initials HG and went on to bigger things), on a tour of Perth pubs and campuses with the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band in the mid-1970s. One of them taught me to juggle (only three balls, very badly).
Soapbox Circus went on to bigger things too, merging with Adelaide’s New Ensemble Circus to form Circus Oz in 1977. Now, 35 years later, an Australian Living Treasure – if circuses were awarded that honorific – they’re back in Perth, as energetic, committed and exuberant as ever.

Their current show, Cranked Up, is circus on a construction site; girders are balanced on and hung off, scaffolding is climbed over, jumped off and through, and much overalling and hard hatting gets done.
A great thing about circus – and Oz is a very traditional one in many ways, much more so than some of its peers on the International Cirquet – is how its performers take its skills and disciplines and give them their own individual stamp.
So while you won’t be surprised by the routines on offer here, the balancing (Mason West) and trapeze (Stevee Mills), juggling (Hazel Bock) and clowning (Dale Woodbridge and Mark Sheppard, two indigenous performers who slyly bring a message as well as much good humour to the show), the way they are done can still surprise and delight.
Among many highlights were Jez Davies’ truly, madly, awful magic act, and a beautiful piece on the aerial rings by the vivacious Spenser Inwood, who came off the bench to replace an injured cast member (an occupational hazard; two regular performers were under doctor’s orders this night).
Nothing was better, though, than the band, led brilliantly by multi-instrumentalist Carl Polke, with Bec Matthews on drums, the irrepressible Ania Reynolds on keys and various cast members on things you bang and blow. Part carny orchestra, part metal group, the band drove the show from before the start to after the finish.
We’ve had a feast of circus in Perth over the last couple of months, from the acrobatic Empire at Crown to the energetic Stomp and splendid Slava’s Snowshow at the Regal. Just around the corner in September is the big kahuna, Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson extravaganza, Immortal.
Our own little Aussie battler is perfectly entitled to its place in that lofty company.

This review appeared in The West Australian 30.8.13

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