Papillon - photo by John GoodridgeCreated by two former Canberrans, Idris Stanton and Elena Kirschbaum, Papillon has been touring the world for three years, but this is the first time it has been performed in Canberra.

The show tries really hard to live up to its promotional description as “a spectacular and debaucherous buffet of circus, cabaret and comedy”, but in reality, the naughty bits are confined to some rude words and a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment of nudity. For the rest of the time Papillon is a succession of clever variations on familiar circus routines, expertly executed by an engaging multi-skilled and attractively costumed cast.

Idris Stanton and Elena Kirschbaum not only share the compere’s role indulging in good humoured banter which engages  the audience from the get-go, but also contribute a variety of impressive circus skills. Belying his disarmingly goofy persona, Stanton proves a dab hand at plate spinning, juggles a running chainsaw together with a couple of dangerous-looking swords, and helps out in the band.

Kirschbaum, also a skilled juggler, walks on bottles and broken glass – a feat which has her audience cringing. She also undertakes some surprisingly heavy lifting for a series of acrobatic routines, most memorably in duet with diminutive Amy Nightingale-Olsen, who besides being tossed around by two of the men,  helping out in the band, and acting as a tap-dancing “Intermission” sign,  performs a lovely trapeze act among cascading bubbles.

Two seriously ripped acrobats, Joshua Phillips and Vince van Berkel, not only provide eye-candy, but impress in a series of solo acts. Phillips balances precariously on stacked chairs, and makes walking around on ladders look like a piece of cake, while van Berkel has the audience gasping either dangling precariously from blue silk suspended from the ceiling, or performing a strip-tease while balancing on his hands on a couple of blocks of wood.

Baby-faced singer, Minnie Andrews opens the show with a bluesy ballad, but puts paid to her innocent image later in the show, when she electrifies the audience with a song she certainly didn’t learn on her grandma’s knee.

Matthew Anderson provides the musical accompaniment for the show, surveying the proceedings with an air of constant bemusement as various of the performers take up instruments and good humouredly join him for acts in which they are not otherwise involved.

It’s easy to see why Papillon, with its excellent production values combining well-honed circus skills presented by an attractive, engaging cast with a strong burlesque/cabaret sensibility, has been a sellout around the country.

Papillon The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Thursday 29 September 2016 – 8.30pm
Season continues to 8 October 2016
Information and Bookings:

Image: Papillon – photo by John Goodridge

Review: Bill Stephens