Saturday, August 18, 2018

Model Citizens - Circus Oz

Circus Oz – Model Citizens, at Canberra Theatre Centre, August 17-18, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 17

“Circus Oz explodes back onto stage, audaciously unpacking the myths of modern Australia in their latest high octane circus show Model Citizens, the first creation fuelled by new Artistic Director Rob Tannion.

Model Citizens seamlessly blends the risk and beauty of breathtaking physical improbability with theatricality, choreography and Circus Oz’s distinct brand of Australian humour.”

There’s always a risk in pumping up the promotion that expectations might not be met.  This time around, Circus Oz needs more dramaturgy to create a clear storyline to unpack the "myths of Modern Australia" and a lot more originality in choreographic design to reach the heights of distinct Australian humour for which the company was famous from its beginning.

I suppose it is unfair or at least unfortunate for the young, and very competent, performers today to be judged by this particular critic who was lucky enough to see that wildly satirical and sometimes quite gruesome 1978 performance.  The title Model Citizens would seem to open up possibilities, but apart from a meaty song about diversity – “but not in my backyard” – and another about loving one’s Weber (which has probably mainly served to increase that brand’s sales), the humour was mildly funny and the message sometimes a bit too obvious and other times just lost in the physical improbability.

The set design of a nondescript kind of diagonal wall with an inconsequential turret at each end was hard to interpret.  A prison wall perhaps, but the message never came through.  It kept the very busy two-person orchestra partially hidden, and it seemed to be used only to give the fire-breather (who was rather frightening to the very young children near me) an access to the high wire – or rather high horizontal rope ladder – which was cleverly used to make human trapezes.

Perhaps, considering the very high proportion of very young popcorn munchers in the audience (who dismally failed the opening instructions, including to always clean up your mess – which did suggest more biting satire to come); perhaps it was OK to keep the intellectual level simple.  Of course the show was enjoyable, what with a kelpie chasing sheep all over the paddock (that is, where we were sitting), the gymnastic skills good (though I have seen better), and live musical accompaniment very effective.

So, entertaining in an ordinary sort of circus way, but not quite the explosive, audacious, and improbably absurd Circus Oz I have come to know and love.

Photos by Rob Blackburn