Nostalgia, comedy, spectacle and surprise: the perfect circus experience

By Kim Edwards

The Circus Oz Big Top at Birrarung Marr by the Yarra in the heart of Melbourne was simply athrill last night with a noisy excited eclectic crowd. It’s been a long time since I attended a circus, and as an adult my only experience had been vague disappointment at a rather dirty, tired, jaded show. This time and for this company however, the atmosphere was of joyous excitement and anticipation, and I honestly felt as revved up as the kids behind me who could scarcely sit still…

From the Ground Up did not disappoint: after plenty of theatre and performance art viewing in my career, I was rapturous to be genuinely amazed, surprised and delighted by this show. I loved the happy front-of-house folk, the great seating design to ensure there isn’t a bad seat in the house, the fantastic use of space and non-stop performance action, and the energised, hilarious, charming and extraordinarily multi-talented cast.

They tumbled and flipped and clowned and sang and swung and joked and juggled: I caught my breath as Mason West teetered precariously atop the Chinese pole, was mesmerised by Luke Taylor’s witty and dexterous video-game inspired block juggling, and laughed spontaneously at Flip Kammerer’s aerobic antics. It’s a wonderful idea to develop the show’s characters so thoroughly and make the audience look forward to the reappearance of their favourites, including Jeremy Davies’ slapstick magic acts and dainty Stevee Mills’ death-defying trapeze work. (N.B. I was surprised to find the program such good value, and the performer collector cards are an inspired idea!)

Special mention must go to the utterly spectacular band: Bec Matthews’ drumming was a highlight, MD Carl Polke was extraordinary on every instrument he picked up, and Ania Reynolds at the piano was both completely charismatic and remarkably skilled.

However, well-deserved crowd favourite was MC Ghenoa Gela, whose glorious stage presence and natural charm were simply palpable. The show’s loose theme of searching for the ultimate Australian song is both clumsy and unsuccessful: indeed, the violence and bitterness of some satirical lyrics seemed unpleasantly incongruous in what is otherwise such a family-oriented and jubilant celebration of our indigenous heritage, multiculturalism and shared artistic culture. However, the lovely ‘fruit salad’ metaphor that spoke so meaningfully and beautifully about cultural identity and difference (and related so poignantly to the real sense of family within this company, and the eclectic nature of the show itself) was superb, and with Ghenoa’s warmth and easy empathy, I hope it is this narrative theme that will be developed to cement this dynamic and diverse production.

With their ‘fruit salad’ audience also of families, elders, politicians, outrageously-costumed students and couples on dates, perhaps the greatest praise to offer From the Ground Up was the vigorous cheering and clapping, and the infectious, uncontrollable laughter of little kids throughout. It’s an earthy, jokey, raw, thrilling, touching, and triumphantly Australian show – and everything I thought circuses had forgotten how to be. Loved it!

Melbourne dates: June 20, 2012 to July 15, 2012

Click HERE for tickets and show information