Limbo Unhinged

Clubs, Cabaret and burlesque
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 (Photograph: Prudence Upton)
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Photograph: Prudence Upton

Stay up late at the Opera House this summer with the party-starting alt-cabaret crew Strut & Fret

If your exercise and nutrition-focused New Years’ resolutions are already crumbling in the face of the office biscuit jar and lazy Saturday beach tinnies, you could do worse than to reinforce your willpower with a night at the circus. Not five minutes into Limbo Unhinged, mesmerised with a parade of toned shoulders and calves gleaming in black and gold rockstar and vaudeville costumes, you’ll be filled with renewed determination to master that full shoulder stand at yoga the very next morning. That guy onstage (Antonio Vargas Montel) just balanced his entire body on one hand – how hard can it be?

Despite the cheeky, cheesy hints of familiar fun-fair musical motifs twirling above the throb of Mick Stuart’s live percussion, Strut N Fret’s updated circus cabaret is far more horny than corny. Sometimes it’s as overt as the cartoonish, neon-stripper-heel camp of an all-male tribute to... red-light districts, I guess? Elsewhere it’s decidedly more refined, as in Nicholas Jelmoni and Charlotte O’Sullivan’s sweetly sexy hand-to-hand work, or a startlingly indecent flourish from sword-swallower/fire-breather and overall standout Heather Holliday.

If this sounds unnecessarily pervy, so be it. What should a circus for grownups evoke if not a high-wire act between the childlike delight of gravity-defying acrobatics and sweet, silly slapstick, and the knowing, libidinous thrill of admiring strong, skilled bodies in revealing costumes? Both are joyous. But there’s no room to actually objectify the cast as they switch smoothly from saucy dance numbers to crooning inoffensive jazz-pop, or from downing a lightsaber to filling in on bass guitar – their sheer versatility astounds. Each of them are likely better at three different things than you are at even one.

In the relatively cosy Studio, most audience members are close enough to see individual muscles rippling and count the mere inches of air trembling between a fast-falling cast member and the hard black surface of the stage; performers wink gleefully at those in the front seats, drape themselves across a row of laps, and blithely pass towering poles over the crowd as they set up the next act. The space – almost all of it – is used well, but the rhythm of the show as a whole suffers from a disjointed structure. Occasional feints towards a theme or suggestion of narrative – most of them via pole artist Remi Martin Lenz’ exuberantly coiffed innocent, or O’Sullivan’s half-baked, arty musical-theatre interludes – are quickly forgotten by a crowd eager to discover the next spectacle.

But there is so much charisma on display in Unhinged that its less successful moments are easily forgiven. It’s impossible not to be charmed by Australian dancer Hilton Denis, whether he’s tapping in jeans or voguing in briefs, or by Lenz and Mikael Bres’ adorable Franglais banter, or Holliday’s incendiary swagger. It might not have the political or theatrical coherence of festival fellow Briefs, but it’s fun as hell.

By: Caitlin Welsh

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