Category: Circus

Midsumma Presents RIOT

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne

By Ciara Thorburn

THISISPOPBABY’s latest show, RIOT is everything you expect and everything you don’t. This perfect montage of cabaret, drag, music, dance and circus, mixed with political undertones will leave you both reflective and inspired.

A glittery and sexy opening introduces four mysteriously hooded figures, who soon reveal themselves as RIOT’s talented vocalists (Alma Kelliher, Adam Matthews and Nicola Kavanagh). Spoken word poet, Kate Brennan delivers emotive stories that address diverse subjects from teen pregnancy to capitalism. Her powerful and rhythmical style give us a sense of the raw, reckless ride that we are about to embark on.

Drag artist, Panti Bliss as MC leads us through the evening’s performances in a camp and rowdy fashion. Add a sensitive strongman who defies gender norms (Ronan Brady) to this already spectacular group of artists, as well as a quirky and captivating tap-dance duo (Philip Connaughton and Deirdre Griffin) and the Lords of Strut, and you have one hell of a talented cast. The crowd favourite was easily the former stars of Britain’s Got Talent, the Lords of Strut – if you haven’t heard or seen these guys before, prepare yourselves because what you will see cannot be unseen. In a ruckus of ‘80s dance parody, lycra leotards and homemade mankinis their ridiculousness proves to be absolute genius. These guys really steal the show with their loveable stupidity and impeccable comedic timing.

What stands out most is the cast of diverse, passionate and highly-skilled performers who bring a mashup of specialties together to complement each other delightfully. Too often we see high (or low) budget shows where the performers look exhausted, run down, or like they would prefer to be somewhere else. Every act in RIOT brings a fresh performer to the stage boasting peerless energy and incomparable talent.

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival 2018. RIOT is a pro-queer, pro-fun, pro-friendly spectacle where anything goes and anything can happen. It’s an absolute delight of a show and a great night out with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or both.
Dates: 31 January – 9 February
Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Prices: $30 – $79


The MC Showroom Presents The Odditorium

The Odditorium entertains, baffles and delights

By Owen James

A vaudevillian cabaret night full of circus tricks and magic is hiding at The MC Showroom, just off Chapel Street in Prahan. The Odditorium is packed full of beautiful simplicity, daring feats of showmanship and pure imagination.


Our host, Sophie DeLightful, invites us into this night of immersive entertainment with an invitation (or perhaps warning) of upcoming audience interaction, her raunchy and bold personality providing the energy and presence needed for a cabaret host – she fits the role perfectly. Her powerful vocals during songs scattered throughout the show are sensational, providing bursts of energy at just the right moment. And her Buffer Boys will give any masseuse in Melbourne a run for their money.

The very talented Mr Marmalade charmed us for a solid half-hour, eliciting numerous gasps and rounds of applause from the audience. Marmalade is a highly skilled (and charming) magician who is also a truly beautiful storyteller – a simple paper bag can become an object of mystery with his carefully chosen words. His utter perfection in sleight of hand occurs just inches away from his transfixed audience, each trick as mesmerising as the last. Entering with just two small bags of tricks and a moustache with a life of its own, we get the feeling that Mr Marmalade’s act could travel and delight absolutely anywhere, street side or amphitheatre.

After a short interval, The Quizzical Mr Jeff brings his visual, prop-based comedy to the stage for the second act – and while the stage of the MC Showroom isn’t the smallest I’ve seen, Mr Jeff certainly needs every single inch of it for his dazzlingly physical finale! The Quizzical Mr Jeff is a daring performer, who uses every prop he brings onstage to its full possible extent (a personal highlight being a tango with a hat stand!). As we watch everyday objects take on a magical life of their own, this mystical man utilises audience interaction as well as a heavy reliance on precise timing of audio cues to bring his unique world to life – although further rehearsal to perfect the synchronised timing might have been beneficial.

Sound mixing and lighting from co-producer Alexandra Nel was simple but effective, LEDs creating soft washes of colour that faded into blackness.

The Odditorium entertains, baffles and delights, just like a true night of vaudeville and circus magic should. It is the perfect show for this intimate venue and a wonderful evening’s entertainment as an antidote to life outside – you will leave with pained cheeks from unavoidable smiles. I am looking forward to suggested future varied instalments of this collection of sideshow oddities!

Dates: 11 – 20  January

Venue: The MC Showroom, 48 Clifton St, Prahran

Times: 8:00pm

Prices: $22 – $35


Arts Centre Melbourne Presents The Unbelievables

A sizzling, sensational summer hit

 By Rebecca Waese 

Las Vegas thrills transformed Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne during the opening night of The Unbelievables with a terrific variety of gravity-defying acrobats, a sword-swallowing comedian, illusionists, singers, dancers, and circus talents. American producers, Simon Painter and Tim Lawson of The Illusionists, hand-picked top performers from around the world and the result is a sizzling, sensational summer hit.

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The show begins with transformationalist, Victoria Petrosyan who changes in and out of sixteen costumes designed by her husband Sos in 120 seconds, leaving the audience in a state of incredulousness and delight. Blademaster, Brett Loudermilk was a highlight; not only captivating in his ability to swallow metal swords and a few other surprises but as a charismatic comedian who connected with the crowd. The hand balancing acrobats, Alan Pagnota and Rafael Ferreira, a.k.a Dupla Mão na Roda, (look them up!) were favourites of mine as they defied gravity and social preconceptions about what a performer in a wheelchair might be able to do with strength, grace and unbelievable muscle control.

Outstanding vocals by Emi Secrest set the jazz-cabaret mood and the band served up sultry jazz and electric guitar interludes with stunning award-winning dancers.

The Card Illusionist, Shin Lim was a champion on Penn and Teller’s television series Fool Us and is currently the FISM World Champion for Close Up Magic. His artistry with cards was mesmerising and close camera work followed his sleight of hand as cards vanished into thin air and reappeared in puffs of smoke from his mouth.

Ukrainian sand artist, Julia Kurkina tied together fantasy and exoticism creating sand art pictures of exotic locales and of the very Arts Centre we were in. 

Ventriloquist Jay Johnson, a veteran in the game, took the gag to a new level with his rude monkey named Darwin and hard-to-please sidekick, Bob. Strong man, Artem Lyubanevych and aerial hoop acrobat, Aleksandra Kiedrowicz were riveting to watch and the Mexican speed juggler, Roberto Carlos got the loudest cheers of the night.

Comic host, Harrison Greenbaum held the show together and seemed to grow more confident over the night and better in tune with what the Australian audience found funny than in his opening patter. His humour was friendly for fans of all ages and he came out to mingle after the show with diva, Emi Secrest and they chatted with spectators, hopping into a photo or two.  

The Unbelievables is a polished, well-thought out show with fabulous talent and updated references on the classic variety formula. Treat yourself to some terrific summer fun for young and old.


Dates: 9 – 13 January

Venue: Hammer Hall, 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank VIC 3006

Times: 3:00pm, 7:00pm

Prices: $30 – $120


Image by Jacquie Manning

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.


Sheer delight

By Lois Maskiell

Sidesault Festival kicked off with a roaring double bill on Wednesday the 8th of November. This experimental circus festival presented by Circus Oz is showcasing emerging and established circus artists in the wondrous Melba Speigeltent and features a range of independant artists from Melbourne and beyond. Casting Off by Australian troupe, A Good Catch and Unsuitable by Tumble Circus from Belfast certainly delivered the goods on the opening night.

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Casting Off commenced with three performers sitting under a table all the while deliberating how to start their own show. These candid clowns soon took their audience on a ride as absurd as it was touching. The dialogue was fresh, carrying the show along with popping originality. The acrobatics, fast-paced and true to the Australian circus tradition, were pleasingly raw and rough around the edges.

Performers Debra Batton, Sharon Gruenert and Spenser Inwood clearly have a bond that only years of training circus together could provide. Debra’s one-liners, planned or improvised were goldmines of laughter. She dropped pearls of nonsensical wisdom, including forgetting what the meaning of life was on top of a three-chair stack. Gruenert threw firey tantrums that could outdo a toddler amidst her air-piercing acrobatics. Finally, the charming Spenser Inwood effortlessly executed an aerial cradle routine, throwing and catching Sharon while jazz scat-singing melodiously.

Casting Off was relaxed, personal and fantastically inappropriate. Not surprising to see these Circus Oz performers pushing their art to new places here in Melbourne.

The ambiance of the Melba Spiegeltent is like no other venue. It’s a space whose magic has been collecting like dust since it was made in Belgium in 1910. The second show on the bill, Unsuitable reflected the facets of this mirrored tent well with its revue-type show consisting of a series of individual acts.

Unsuitable by Tumble Circus premiered at Sidesault Festival, and to say it was welcomed warmly would be an understatement. This full-length show commenced with a short vignette of three mischevieous clowns who liked to kick each others’ butts to psychtrance.

Ken Fanning, Tina Segner and Angelique Ross demonstrated their talent in a series of individual and group acts. All our favourite apparatus took the stage: trapeze, tissue, hula hoops and even a group juggling act with all performers in spangled leotards, platforms and blonde wigs.

Highlights include Tina’s tissue routine performed in motorcycle helmet, Angelique’s poetic tightwire act that told the story of a trip on the metro and featured some edible props, and Ken’s clowning act that proves the art of buffooning is very much alive. He really had the audience in the palm of his hand, eliciting high-pitched cackles with ease.

Sharp, edgy and hilarious: Tumble Circus’s Unsuitable is guaranteed to keep you engaged and laughing.

Supported by the City of Yarra and presented by Circus Oz, Sidesault Festival runs from the 8th to the 18th and is not to be missed. For tickets and more information:

Image by Rob Blackburn

Melbourne Festival 2017: BACKBONE

Stand strong

By Myron My

Just when you think you’ve seen all that is possible in circus, along comes Backbone (by Adelaide company Gravity and Other Myths) that makes you think again. Presented as part of the Melbourne Festival, this show examines the need of strength and support from those around us, and a need to be able to come together as a unified front if we are to ever succeed in life, wonderfully represented through some mind-boggling acrobatics.


There’s a strong ritualistic aesthetic in Backbone as the performers pour buckets of sand early in the show onto the stage in varying patterns. They begin to move left to right across the floor in a repetitive rite-of-passage while executing captivating body rotations, twists, flips, balances, jumps and turns that I’ve never witnessed before. These bodies are doing things that should be physically impossible and it’s baffling as to how they keep their energy and momentum going for the entire 75 minutes.

The strength, teamwork, flexibility and trust that lies within this troupe (Martin Schreiber, Lachlan Binns, Jascha Boyce, Jacob Randell, Lewie West, Lewis Rankin, Joanne Curry, Mieke Lizotte, Lachlan Harper, Jackson Manson) is clearly evident, as bodies are thrown from one side of the stage and caught on the other and three-person human towers are constructed. Boyce’s hypnotic suit and rock act has her fixing her sight out towards the audience, remaining expressionless throughout her act so even as she stands precariously on the shoulders of one performer and is being passed to another, her eyes stay locked and she remains calm, knowing everything will go according to plan.

Director Darcy Grant ensures an energised pace for the show, while providing the opportunity for the audience to savour every second of what is transpiring on stage – not only through the performers but also with the production’s technical and artistic design too. Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory‘s original score heightens the tension and drama allowing the audience to become fully enveloped by what they are seeing. Each act is perfectly matched with music that has these musicians seamlessly swapping from one instrument to another.

The laser and lighting design by Geoff Cobham is impeccable, as his rig beams across the stage and shines down from above. The lighting refracts off mirrors hanging from the ceiling, creating mesmerising patterns and stunning images on stage, with some performers veiled in shadows while other are brightly lit under the hues of the various colours.

Gravity and Other Myths return to Melbourne in January 2018 with another show, A Simple Space, which – after having seen Backbone – I will not be missing. Not only has this circus company delivered my favourite circus show of the year with Backbone, but quite possibly one of my favourite circus shows ever.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Season: Until 8 October | Sat 7:30pm, Sun 2pm

Tickets: $30 – $59 

Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Melbourne Fringe 2017: PRECIPICE

Edge-of-seat spectacle

By Joana Simmons

Diving into a world of chaos, National Institute of Circus Arts’ second-year ensemble show Precipice defies danger in an effort to celebrate life. The cast of 19 young athletes, under the direction of Zebastian Hunter and guidance of their world-class teachers, perform exhilarating tumbles, turns, shifts and falls using a range of apparatus in solo and ensemble pieces. This is the most professional student work I have seen at NICA, and is an absolutely astounding production in regards to skill, concept and music.


The high performance space at NICA in Prahran is clad in stark scaffolding and plastic in a set designed by Stephanie Howe. Two performers are suspended from the ceiling, as if they are falling from the sky reaching for each other. The first act is filled with struggle, with performers leaning and reaching, about to jump off the edge, only to be pushed or struck down by another performer flying or flipping into them. The music- played live in violin, cello and piano and directed by David Wiskin provides fantastic tension and adds to the frantic nature of the movement. Standout individual performances included Adam Malone’s hula hoop and head-balancing trapeze act: I was on the edge of my seat as he effortlessly balanced on his head whilst swinging and spinning through the air, above his cast mates lying in a puddle of laughter below. The adagio waltz featuring Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn was also wonderfully refreshing, as they played a couple having a fight at a party and standing on each other’s heads to spite their face. Their characterization and flow through their stunts was strong, and it was supported well by the cast.

Act two found the performers displaying bland urban costume, torn and dusty, with contemporary dance-inspired rolling and twisting, and moving up out of the ground. My jaw once again remained dropped for Ciara Thorburn and Liam Dummer’s chair balancing. The themes began to evolve more through some spoken word, reminding us we are creatures of love and after chaos we emerge, but we need to feel the fear and leap into the void that is change. The mood lightened with the chin-up contest: it is incredible that after suspending themselves in all sorts of directions the performers can bang out 20 chin ups, with the female cast members winning in the end. Overall congratulations go to Lyndon Johnson for his strong performance on the Roue Cyr (big ring) and commitment in the acrobatics and ensemble numbers, while my favourite of the whole show was Emily Chilvers, an absolute gun on the rope, handstands, and acrobatics.

The creative team have done a stellar job of showcasing these young professionals in the best way possible. Directed by Hunter and devised with Meredith Kitchen, not only is this show an athletic spectacle, it also interrogates the impermanence of time, physical and psychological senses. The monochromatic lighting by Matt Cox works well with the industrial set. Some of the ensemble choreography was somewhat predictable, and repetitive, though as it was executed with full commitment it was still highly effective.

Australia’s circus scene is becoming of a higher and higher caliber and it is incredibly exciting to see students be pushed to deliver such a strong and slick production. There’s is a handful of circus shows on this year’s Fringe program: Precipice is a thrilling, eye-opening, edge-of-seat spectacle.

PRECIPICE was performed from Wed 20 – Sat 23 September 2017 at the NICA National Circus Centre. For information about upcoming productions, visit

Strut & Fret Present BLANC DE BLANC

A toast to the highlights

By Myron My

Set inside the Aurora Spiegeltent, Strut & Fret’s Blanc de Blanc is the newest blend of cabaret, circus and burlesque to make its way to Melbourne. A stream of scantily-clad men and women present a variety of acts intended to titillate and dazzle, and while there are certainly some thrilling moments, this is unfortunately rarely the case. As such, the show ultimately comes across as a relatively mediocre variety night of dance and clowning, which over two hours begins to feel repetitive and even tiresome.

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Spencer Novich is absolutely hilarious as the right hand man to maitre d’ Monsieur Romeo. His clowning and physicality kept the entire audience bellowing with laughter and his mime montage of various sound bytes all thrown together was the highlight of the evening. His later pairing with J’aiMime for a second dose of this was even more impressive. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for his Romeo, whose entire presence throughout the show felt awkward and at times unnecessary.

Of the limited circus acts performed, it must be noted Hampus Jansson and Milena Straczynksi’s double aerial act showed strength and sensuality, while the bellhop acrobatics by Masha and her spinning hotel luggage cart displayed strong skill and real concentration.

Despite the glaring presence of champagne throughout, there was neither a strong, fluid (pun intended) theme running between each act or an overarching narrative to make Blanc de Blanc a cohensive whole. The use of the spa felt tacky and as if it was imposing on the show rather than working as a character. Meanwhile, towards the end of the show audience members are given five minutes to take selfies with the performers, and while the intentions might be to connect with us, the overt self-promotion meant the show unfortunately lost any charm for me it may have garnered along the way.

Strut & Fret delivered an amazing show with LIMBO during Melbourne Festival in 2015. Unfortunately they have failed to re-create that magic for me with Blanc de Blanc, with its lack of a clear purpose and the dearth of exciting acts.

Venue: The Aurora Spiegelent, Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda (next to Palais Theatre) 
Until 30 July| Tues – Thus 7:30pm, Fri – Sat 7pm and 9:30pm, Sun 7pm
between $38 and $78
Bookings: Map 57