AAR Highwire Rouge - review - photo by Jodie HutchinsonThe emergence of spiegeltents in Australia has also led to the emergence of adult circus cabaret as a popular new genre. Rouge is an excellent example. Promising “a decadent blend of sensational acrobatics, operatic cabaret and tongue in cheek burlesque” the show for the most part, delivers on its promise.

The attractive cast of five skilled circus performers, Liam de Jong, Jessie McKibbin, Lyndon Johnson, Maddison Burleigh and Paul Westbrook, each with their own impressive repertoire of individual skillsets, have pooled their talents with those of opera singer, Issie Hart, to devise a diverting and good-humoured little show which would fit beautifully into a spiegeltent, but felt a little under-cooked in the formal framework of a theatre. A fact emphasised by the uninspired and under-rehearsed opening number which got the show off to a less than auspicious start.

However a succession of cleverly devised acrobatic turns in which the attractively costumed performers showcased their skills in solos or in various combinations, performing skilful tumbling and acrobatics utilising aerial bars and hoops, chairs and other apparatus,  soon lifted the audience mood.

Red, a subtle reference to the show’s title, was the predominant colour for the costumes in the first half. Issie Hart displayed an impressive operatic technique, and provided mobile spectacle in magnificent red gowns and headdresses. Paul Westbrook contributed a cheeky male fan dance, and later teamed with Lyndon Johnson for an impressive a straps routine. Jessie McKibbin also teamed with Lyndon Johnson to perform an elegant Cyr wheel routine, certainly one of the highlights of the evening.

Justifying the “Adult” label, the raunchier second half of the show commenced with a sexy ensemble routine featuring the full cast, costumed in black leather, engaging a variety acrobatic same-sex couplings. More heat was provided by the fire-eating act, a whip-cracking act, and some titillating full-frontal nudity in which one of the cast, his identity protected by a lampshade on his head, managed to recover his underpants while attempting to preserve his dignity with his hands.

Perhaps losing something in translation from spiegeltent to theatre, Rouge on this occasion never quite achieved the panache and decadence promised by its publicity. That aside,  it never-the-less did provide an enjoyable evening of enticingly packaged physical theatre.

Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 23 October 2019
Season: 23 – 26 October 2019 (closed)

Image: Lyndon Johnson, Issie Hart and Paul Westbrook star in Rouge – photo by Jodie Hutchinson

Review: Bill Stephens OAM