Conceived and directed by Idris Stanton and Elena Kirschbaum. Le Petite Grande Spiegeltent. Petrie Plaza. Wintervention. Civic. July 13 – 22. 2018.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Papillon Unplugged in the Le Petite Grande Spiegeltent during Canberra’s Wintervention struggled to live up to its marketing hype. By her own admission, co-director Elena Kirschbaum acknowledged that this version of the show, previously seen in Canberra prior to the company’s international touring, is a pared down shadow of its original. On a bitingly cold Canberra night, it was warm inside the small tent, but the show could not hit the hots. This was not for want of trying. There were the familiar acts, Amy Nightingale Olsen spinning a host of hoops thrown in from the side of the miniscule stage by MC, Elle Bella; Kirschbaum’s strong woman act with an axe over the unsuspecting Victpr from the audience, the petite war head foot -tumbler, the juggling, the gymnastics and Peter Karmel ‘s naughty Blanc de Blanc inspired balloon striptease. There was jazz singer, Minnie Andrews with her soulful Billie Holiday Blues and a suggestive rude rendition of Neck, Pussy, Crack and Back, apparently one to shock the older members of the audience .
For a show that promised “a spectacular and debaucherous buffet of circus, cabaret and comedy turning typical circus on its head. “ Papillon Unplugged fell short of the mark. The show opened with an apology and for about fifty minutes four tentative performers strutted their stuff as though they were at an audition for the National Institute of Circus Arts.
It was quickly apparent that this company of performers was working against the odds. A small stage cramped their style. Minnie’s recorded music was inaudible at times. Olsen’s hoops went flying towards the front row.. And Karmel’s balloons blew around with a will of their own. Outside in a sadly unlit Petrie Plaza, the night was cold and dark, inviting audiences to keep away. Inside an appreciative and sympathetic audience got into the spirit of the show, generously eager to comply with the company’s requests for participation. This is an unpretentious and unostentatious troupe, young performers, passionate about their art and working hard to perfect their skills, but in an industry where audiences may be familiar with Cirque de Soleil, Circus Oz, Blanc de Blanc and Briefs, expectations run high, and compromise can be a dangerous companion.
Apology dampens the spirit. It is pizzazz that sparks the creative fire. It is the magic ingedient that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. This is the way the magic works, not with a whimper but a bang. I have no doubt that these passionate circus and cabaret performers in time and with a full company on a larger stage with theatrical wizardry would have what it takes to thrill and delight the audience. On a cold, dark and forbidding Canberra winter night, Papillon Unplugged was in need of a director with an eye for talent, an instinct for excitement and a love of showbiz sparkle and spangle.
Note: The photos included here are not from the current production. No programme was provided.