My first plane trip out of Tasmania at the age of 18 was also my first encounter with Sydney and Circus Oz. At that time they didn’t have much of a profile, especially in Tasmania. But amongst the exotic experiences I had on that trip, Circus Oz became one that is inscribed on my memory forever.
Twenty years later on a wintry night in Hobart’s Theatre Royal I am watching the company’s latest show Circus Oz Barely Contained. Sitting beside me is my 10 year old daughter, Lily, already a regular Circus Oz patron. Something that has endured since the company began 30 years ago is the troupe’s ability to engage and entertain audiences of all ages.
While the show is entertaining and relatively fast paced, I find myself waiting for the oohhhh moment. And it finally comes in the form of two trapeze artists climbing and negotiating around each other while balancing on four stacked chairs, with the first positioned on four glass bottles. Intimate, seductive and beautifully lit, this scene demonstrates the magic of Circus Oz. It is not about the biggest and best tricks, but the sweet moments that create the sense of wonderment. Moments created through a simple idea, clever choreography and accomplished musicians.
Stand-out performances included the Strong Woman Mel Fyfe who teamed up with short-statured person Emma J Hawkins to perform a range of tap dancing and acrobatic routines. This partnership provided the light and shade, humour and black comedy that make Circus Oz more than just entertaining. The endurance, strength and skill from all the performers was at times breathtaking.
While the flimsy storyline about a wedding serves as the hook for many routines, it often interrupts the continuity and energy between the audience and performers. It also reminds us that a great show is built on a good script and clear direction. Something this show could have benefited from.
While the obvious delight from younger audience members reminded me of my first Circus Oz experience, I found myself wanting more. After 30 years of performing, the challenge is to not only entice new audiences but satisfy the stalwarts. To do this, they need to be developing fresh innovative work with strong scripts and direction, to keep us coming back for that dose of wit, brilliance and chaos.
Circus Oz Barely Contained performed in Hobart Wednesday 26-29th September as part of a National Tour.