Strut & Fret spectacle

Life – The Show (Strut & Fret Production House)

The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent

September 6 – 29

“Life – The Show” comes with some words of warning, “This show contains drug references, full frontal nudity, attempted pyrokinesis (the purported psychic ability allowing a person to create and control fire with the mind, for those who don’t want to have to Google) and adult concepts”. The adult concepts are immediate clear as the bumbling protagonist of sorts (Dutch circus artist Goos Meeuwsen) laments about his going-through-the-motions life. It’s quite a sedate start compared to that of past Strut & Fret shows; this is the production house who has previous brought Brisfest “Blanc de Blanc” and “Limbo Unhinged”. Indeed, expectations of salaciousness are never really met. Instead, there is a lot of comedy and clowning in Act One as this central character takes us along his journey through life’s ups and downs of love, marriage and children.

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It is the show’s music (arrangement by Steve Toulmin) that immediately establishes itself as one of its main strengths. Its inspired choices and inventive mashups really work, though on paper they maybe shouldn’t. A clap-along, upbeat ‘Faith’ by Ariana Grande for example, morphs through a ‘Careless Whisper’ saxophone solo to become the percussion frenzy of a ‘Welcome to the Jungle’/’Whole Lotta Love’, GnR/Zeplin mashup. From the folksy ‘Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead’ to the evocative ‘People are Strange’, the soundtrack is full of memorable moments. And jazz singer singer Fantine Pritoula does a spectacular job in bringing the lyrics and melody of so many of them to renewed life, including a soulful linger of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and a resonating punch of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’.

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Clearly, this Strut & Fret shows has more narrative than the company’s previous works. Surprisingly, however, it seems to slow things down. And it doesn’t even necessarily make things less indiscriminate because everything is kind of random… take, for example, the cast’s colour fight at show’s end. The usual tricks are included in terms of acrobatics and trapeze artistry, but also a high flying saxophone player (Bliase Garza from Violent Femmes) and a dynamic tap number from Australian dancing sensation Hilton Denis.

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But it wouldn’t be Strut & Fret without bring of something new of the OMG spectacle sort. This time it is the amazing spectacle of acrobats Time Kriegler and Elke Uhd climbing up and falling within a giant plastic tube hanging from the top of the Spiegeltent, to the oohs and ahhs of mouths-agape audience members.

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With its stellar performer line-up, there is much to love about “Life – The Show” in segments, if not the sum of its parts. Its cocktail of entertainment certainly serves as celebration of what it means to be human, even if it is not as high energy or as risqué as the company’s previous Speigletent shows. And with sentiment and beat of its ‘Live is Life’ ending in mind, it is easy to float out with the ‘stand up and dance’ feeling of the people.

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Fun and circus games

Fun House (Strut & Fret Production House)

South Bank Piazza

September 7 – 24

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“Fun House” is Strut & Fret Production House’s brand new interactive show, making its debut at the Brisbane Festival, so those familiar with the Brisfest faves’ other works will know what to expect…. kinda, sorta. The show is an aptly named combo of circus trickery, full of froth, bubble and frivolity and much less saucier than their “Blanc de Blanc” and “Limbo” works.

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Bawdy humour and innuendo still appear, giving “Fun House” a spiegeltent feel, despite its appearance in the South Bank Piazza. There isn’t as much intimacy, but the bigger space provides lots of room to play as the show’s co-ringmaster and always crowd favourite Spencer Novich prances in as a unicorn to be joined by Trygve Wakenshaw as a white rabbit. Nice in their naughtiness and delightful as ever, together the two lead a band of madcap characters through a fast-paced 70-minutes of non-stop showmanship to a soundtrack featuring the music of viral YouTube sensation, DJ Pogo (the show’s absolute highlight).

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Although acts include swinging trapeze artists, tightrope walkers and alike feats of balance and aerial amazement, traditional acrobatic and stunt circus acts are relatively few and far between. Instead the “Fun House” experience is more like a fun and games variety show of silly song and dance numbers, motorbikes and even a ukulele number…  the kind of hyper-real experience that mind befall Alice in Wonderland, on acid. This gives the work a broad appeal beyond just the spectacle of its more adults-only shows and while it does drag a little, it also stands as testament to the company’s appreciation of all the different ways that you can choose to put contemporary circus together. The result is enjoyment on an immense scale, especially when acts are accompanied by nostalgic childhood show vision on screens behind the action, like a “Sesame Street” number that whimsically accompanies an early ‘umbrellas of love’ juggling duet. And you don’t get more fun than when jumping castles are in the house.

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Très chic circus talent

Limbo Unhinged (Strut & Fret Production House)

Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

September 8 – 30

Strut & Fret are back at the Brisfest Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, brazenly doing what they do best in, above and around the tent. From the moment we welcomed to the hot and whimsical world of “Limbo Unhinged” with instruction to get comfortable on the edge of our seats, its enigmatic appeal is evident. Its opening number is treacherous, tribal and very très chic. Indeed, this Strut and Fret show is more seductive than ever, and, at times sensual, sexy and sassy too.

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Although there is no linking narrative, a superb music score composed specifically for the show, ties its different elements together through its live ensemble performance of both sensual melodies and sexy beats. And the show’s elements are many, everything that made its predecessor, “Limbo” a worldwide success, only taken to the extreme as multi-talented performers from around the world showcase their skills in all range of ways, from musicianship and dance to acrobatics and circus routines.

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Every scene is a visual feast, thanks in part to some spectacular costumes. And just when you think things couldn’t be any more sensational, there is extreme sword swallowing and fire eating from American femme fatale Heather Holliday. Other highlights include when performers balance on tall bendy poles with incredible movement, a dynamic tap number from Australian dancing sensation Hilton Denis and a thrilling Chinese Pole act from the acrobatic expert, Rémi Martin Lenz from Germany.

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Strength and skill are on show everywhere as performers contort their limbs almost inside out and fly through the air. Canada’s Charlotte O’Sullivan and Monaco’s Nicolas Jelmoni are breathtaking to watch in their demanding hand-to-hand work, especially when she flips in the air and he catches her centimetres from the floor; the balance and flexibility shown in their feats make for a hypnotic audience experience. Suspense is tempered with lots of fun too, culminating in an end-of-show retro disco number, complete with performers on roller skates.

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In “Limbo Unhinged”, Strut & Fret again cements modern circus as a legitimate art form, without making a big deal of it. The result is an energetic, vivacious experience, best enjoyed with a group of friends and plenty of bubbles. New Strut & Fret audience members will love it; those who’ve seen previous shows will certainly appreciate its seriously impressive talent, but will maybe have other preferences.

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Blanc de Blanc (Strut & Fret Production House)

Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

September 2 – 24

If Alice was an adult what would her wonderland look like? The answer is “Blanc de Blanc”, with an emphasis on the adult. The show, which brings its salacious fusion of circus, cabaret and burlesque to the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent at this year’s Brisbane Festival direct from London’s West End, is all sorts of energetic froth and bubble.

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While, in keeping with circus work traditions, there is no storyline, there is central motif from which the show draws its inspiration… champagne. (It’s marketed the show that pops your cork). And the premise leads to an assortment of vignettes, from more traditional hula-hooping and skilled aerial work as, from the front-of-stage jacuzzi, performers soar in the air around and above the audience, to a human champagne fountain and an unmentionable act with a maraca to the soundtrack (of sorts) of ‘I Will Survive’.

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In every instance the performers show astonishing core strength, balance and flexibility as they twist and turn their buff and beautiful, barely-clad bodies in the most impressive of acrobatic ways. As with last year’s fabulous “Fear and Delight”, the star of the show is undoubtedly Spencer Novich, the jester of sorts whose extreme characterisation includes mix of clowning and contortionism. And his perfect delivery, again, of the same mimed monologue of sorts, set to sound effects and samples randomly mashed together from all range of sources, is worth the repeat for its brilliance.

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The aesthetic is one of indulgence; its lush lighting of rich reds and sexy shadow silhouettes add gloriously to its hedonism. The mix of music, too, suits its naughty-rather-than nice attitude with celebratory take on a range of contemporary pop tunes, from ‘Lady Marmalade’ to ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, in mix with classics like Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose’.

“Blanc de Blanc” is all sorts of often-inappropriate, 18+ full-frontal nudity fun, like the audience has been invited along to the performer party on stage… literally, in its moments of participation. It’s a loud, proud and a visually-rich show that bubbles in its spectacle, perfectly suited to a late-night festival schedule and non-traditional space, but risqué as its content is, not be to everyone’s taste. But as the suave Monsieur Romeo, the emcee for the evening proclaims… ‘If like champagne have a glass… If you don’t you can kiss their ass!’

Fear and fetished delight

Fear & Delight (Strut & Fret Production House)

South Bank – Cultural Forecourt

September 4 – 25

Fear & Delight
All the way through the night
With a little daring do
I’ll fall in love with you

As the lyrics of The Correspondents’ song of the same name imply, “Fear &Delight” is quite the daring show. Part concert, part performance art, with an adult themed twist (the production is rated 18+), the show is a sometimes weird, often wacky collection of work from acrobats, aerialists, dancers, contortionists and comedians from across the globe.

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It is a kaleidoscope of talent, set to a cool monochromatic black and white pallette, both on stage and as per direction to audience members to dress accordingly, whether it be in tux or jeans and cons. The aesthetic result is central to the show’s themes of contrasting ideas – black/white and fear/delight. Beyond this, there is little to mesh the circus and comedy, apart from its fetish imagery of bondage and alike, but that hardly matters once audience members have been enticed by the compilation of physical feats, strobe-lit spectacle and thumping, provocatively up-tempo yet dark, jazz-infused electro soundtrack of live music from UK cult-dj duo The Correspondents.

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Indeed, the inclusion of the duo of Ian Bruce and DJ Chuck is what takes this show to its apex. Appearing like a Peter Garrett/Tim Burton hybrid, Bruce’s lead vocalist energy never wanes and the titular track and single from the group’s first album “Puppet Loosely Strung” is a highlight whose melody will linger with you long after the show’s confettied conclusion.

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The delight of this world conceived by Strut & Fret, the award-winning makers of previous festival hits “Limbo” and “Cantina”, “Fear & Delight” is a sexy journey beyond reality. During the hour long show, audience members will experience the spectacle of some superb acrobatic acts in which performers showcase their respective strengths and talents in movement on, around and above the purpose-built tent stage at South Bank’s Cultural Precinct festival hub, make use of a range of props.

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The highlight, however, comes not from the acrobatics but the oddest of the characters, who begins the show with triangle on his back (because why not?) As this sidekick clown character, Spenser Novich is absolutely hilarious, particularly in his perfectly timed delivery of a mimed monologue of sorts, set to sound effects and samples randomly mashed together from all range of sources.

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And the delight doesn’t have to stop when the confetti falls with the post show experience continuing for those who dare to enter the G&T Cloud Experience, a Southern Hemisphere first whereby Alcoholic Architecture genius Bompas & Parr diffuse G&T in installation of immersive cloud. Only don’t go licking the walls; this isn’t Willy Wonker world. There is also a pre-show sensory experience courtesy of The Devil’s Banquet, whereby diners can pay a premium to indulge in obscure gastronomic decadence before the show, with the stage set as their table.

Whichever options you choose, “Fear & Delight” is sure to be revealed as a show without an apt descriptor. Far from the usual theatre fare, it offers a cheeky, surreal strangeness that can only be experienced in a festival setting and is certainly a worthy recommendation to anybody wishing to see something different.