For some years now, tours of circus-based extravaganzas have been (at least) an annual feature of Australia’s arts scene. Following stints at Adelaide Fringe, the Brisbane Festival, and the Sydney Opera House, it’s MICF 2017’s turn to host the German offering Soap. Once you’ve seen it, you may never feel the same way about bath time again.
The stage was set with bathtubs at varying heights that would move around over the course of the show. The choice initially seemed risky; some will immediately recall “Bath Boy” from various La Clique seasons and their accompanying iconic posters. In Soap however, bathtubs aren’t there for merely a cameo, they’re the site of most of the show’s physical feats.
As for how much you get into a lather over these, ahh, that might well depend on how many recent touring productions you’ve seen. The feats of athleticism and control are certainly impressive, but they have much competition. I recall being amazed when years ago I first saw acts like Joel Salom’s technology-enhanced juggling in Gadgets, The English Gentlemen defy gravity in La Soirée, Jess Love’s frantic hoop work in La Clique, or three aerialists balancing on swinging, bending poles in Limbo.
Often there was a high degree of perceived risk in these tricks. I didn’t get the same thrill from most acts in Soap, which is not to discount their obvious quality. I appreciated a new slant on the use of feet to balance and juggle objects including towels from Liudmila Nikolaeva’s solo segment.
For me the standout was Lena Reis’ powerful yet graceful aerial hoop routine. The use of her contortionism in sequences added wow factor as well as novelty; at times Reis’ rib cage seem ready to burst through the tensioned skin above. To the backing of Goldfrapp’s Human, extreme sights such as this suggested that Reis might just be just about to reveal herself as from a species physically superior to us mere seated mortals. It was one of those compelling instances where a display of skill bubbles up into an artistic moment.
Those who haven’t seen so many similar shows may benefit from having their experience uninhibited by the froth of comparisons. Judging by the crowd reaction, many seemed to quite enjoy a brush with Soap. Acts included hand balancing, straps, bounce juggling, and gymnastic elements. I found some displays of strength seemed to repeat what had gone before on a different apparatus, diminishing their impact.
Soap does differentiate itself from many similar shows by sustaining a theme, and ongoing interludes of physical comedy. Much of this was provided by a nerdy young woman, clown Nicole Ratjen, who brought an endearingly silly – only sometimes risqué – energy to her cavorting in and around bathtubs.
The theme was also supported by the amusing touch of having Bobby Darin’s hit Splish Splash performed in the style of various classical music composers by soprano Jennifer Lindshield. Given the rapturous applause at the finale, Soap looks destined to clean up at MICF 2017.
Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Saturday 1 April 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 22 April 2017
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Soap – courtesy of Arts Projects Australia
Review: Jason Whyte