Melbourne Festival – Dark Circus

Dark Circus - photo by J M BensenvalYou know how traditional Fairy Tales, like Rumplestiltskin, can feature some quite unpleasant characters and situations, yet still be intended for children? The Australian Premiere of Dark Circus by French company STEREOPTIK adapts this idea for modern times. The show is an inventive telling of a story where circus performances go tragically awry. As the somewhat devilishly-styled ringmaster exclaimed: “Come for the show, stay for the woe!”

Whilst Dark Circus is billed as “A unique celebration of creativity for ages 8+”, like Fairy Tales, adults might recognise and appreciate some grown-up themes, such as the trappings of our disposable culture, concealed within the fantastical wrapping. From the beginning, our performers, Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet acclimatised us to the bleak town visited by this joyless touring circus. Yes, there’s circus music, but it’s the sort Jeff Buckley would write in a melancholic mood.

The novelty and magical appeal of Dark Circus lies in its “cinema without film” approach. The performers work on surfaces under cameras, which relay their actions to a film screen. Through this, they showed puppets of paper silhouettes, painted landscapes, or sculpted sand into backdrops. Recognizing a complex 3d shape emerge from a process of hand flourishes could have an eye-popping effect. Live and recorded music also traversed a variety of styles and suited the action.

The story-telling approach means you can watch the tale, or maybe if you’re a nerd, you can glance at the performers either side of the screen as the magic happens. On more than one occasion I found myself grinning broadly at how cleverly the show was put together, and the artfulness and detail of some sequences. And, where can I get the music?

Much like the Grimm stories, there’s a twist in the tale. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the abrupt change to the Dark Circus very believable or satisfying. However, the events that followed gave plenty of razzle-dazzle and some appealingly nutty humour as the characters were given licence to express their hidden natures.

Especially for a 6.00pm Friday show, there was an unfortunately small crowd in attendance. However, there’s still a few chances to get under the Big Top in this short festival season. Roll Up, Roll Up, Dark Circus is in town. You wouldn’t want to miss such a gleeful and varied experience made by STEREOPTIK’s prodigious talents.

Dark Circus
Beckett Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 133 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Friday 6 October 2017 – 6.00pm
Season continues to 9 October 2017
Information and Bookings: www.festival.melbourne

Image: Dark Circus – photo by J M Bensenval

Review: Jason Whyte

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