These days, you don’t have to wait too long for a circus-type show to come around. Many feature performers with amazing skills, and the best offerings put a new spin on tricks. The Carnival of Lost Souls has this, and also aspirations to challenge our notions of what a circus show can be.
Writer Graham Coupland and Artistic Director Terrence O’Connell attempt this by setting skilful acts from various disciplines within the story of a Victorian-era travelling circus. The action was advanced or complemented by performances of original songs, both written and accompanied live by Platonic. The music also contributed to a sense of foreboding at times when our cast would grimly set the stage, or perform their acts with sombre concentration.
Marketing itself as “circus noir”, the show was not completely successful at integrating the worlds of circus and theatre. This resulted from the combination of what was or wasn’t emphasised, and what the staging permitted the audience to see.
Some songs were somewhat repetitious, which would be fine if that was necessary to communicate key plot points. However, other events that I suspected were more important to the arc of the story – such as the drawing of a tarot card, or the reaction of a character – were fleeting.
This is why the staging became an issue. Seating in the Melba Spiegeltent was arranged in a semi-circle around the floor serving as performance space. From my side-on position, sometimes I found the action washed out by overhead lighting. Other times, I couldn’t get a clear view of some event, due to the movement of performers in front of me, or an unfavourable angle on the action. The result was a story with gaps. Post-show comments from audience members sitting nearby indicated they too had difficulty following the story.
This is regrettable as the show has many virtues. Acts, such as those employing a suspended hoop or aerial silk, were performed at a high standard. A segment utilising a metal cube was performed with spectacular speed, and close proximity to the crowd, bringing a sense of excitement. Feats of strength and control in hand balancing impressed, and magical illusions added to the supernatural feel of proceedings.
The portrayal of characters was a particular strength. Simon P Storey’s Ring Master oozed sleazy interest in his female performers. In sequences with a newly arrived seductress (Mimi Le Noir), dance sequences choreographed by Yvette Lee fairly glowed with the heat of desire. The element of burlesque in one of these might explain why the show is recommended for ages 15+.
Credit is also due to costume design by Clockwork Butterfly, influenced by Victoriana and Steampunk. Choices such as sumptuous brocade fabrics acclimatised us quickly to the era and differences in social standing. Nifty details, like a skull-topped cane and a skirt bustle, added visual interest.
The Carnival of Lost Souls is touring to Adelaide, Sydney, and Brisbane after the Melbourne season. Those later dates are in established theatres, and audiences there might hope to have an experience that’s less dependent on their seats. Melbourne audiences might find that sitting more front-on to the action will lessen the misfortunes noted here.
The Carnival of Lost Souls
The Melba Spiegeltent, 35 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Performance: Friday 20 October 2017 – 9.00pm
Season continues to 28 October 2017
Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 10 – 11 November 2017
Reginald Theatre – Seymour Centre, Corner City Road & Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 16 – 18 November 2017
Roundhouse Theatre, 6 – 8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Season: 23 – 25 November 2017
For more information, visit: www.carnivaloflostsouls.com for details.
Image: Hannah Trott in The Carnival of Lost Souls (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte