Duck Pond: Acrobatics Meet Avian Antics!

Duck Pond

Duck Pond Rating

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Pirouettes, waddles, and aerial feats – bodies defying gravity and whimsy taking flight. Circa Contemporary Circus presents ‘Duck Pond’, a fusion of fairy tales that redefines the boundaries of creativity and ruffles a few feathers. It’s not a circus, not pure dance, but unapologetically surrealistic and offbeat.

Yaron Lifschitz reimagines elements of Swan Lake and The Ugly Duckling with physical theatre, circus arts, and contemporary dance to retell a timeless tale of love, self-discovery, and acceptance. While Circa’s distinctively idiosyncratic approach results in a visually appealing show, it doesn’t always hit the sweet spot in adding depth and cohesion. It’s a conundrum – an experience that’s both refreshingly unconventional and bizarre in some choices. The show comprises three distinct performances pooled into one: kinetic spectacle, clowning, and a puzzling postmodern coda.

The stage itself is a masterful design element, a vast and versatile expanse bound by a curtain that wraps around three sides. Beautifully lit, its ribbons part, permitting seamless entrances and exits from all angles, accentuating the silhouette of black and white costumes. Ten outstanding artists carry the show with an impressive display of skill and endurance. Managing to execute challenging acrobatic choreography with precision and grace. United in their commitment, they demonstrate the power of trust and collaboration, integrating agility with lovely dramatic flair.

The best moments were when time felt suspended. Sophie Seccombe, a talented acrobat, mesmerised audiences with her exquisite adagio skills, gracefully transitioning from ‘The Ugly Duckling’ to ‘White Swan’ and culminating in a beautifully executed swan dive. Asha Colless, as the enchanting Fairy Swan Mother, brought grace and majesty to the stage, her impressive power and skill shone through in her captivating acrobatic performance.

The aerial silks routine, performed by three men, was full of air and floating vastness. The blue silks swung rhythmically, twirling them through the space. With strength and precision, they performed daring drops and releases. It ended all too soon. Kimberley Rossi, as the Black Swan Aerialist, delivered a breathtaking ropes performance. Harmonising her movements with the melody, creating a memorable fusion of sound and motion.

This was a hypnotising moment before the abrupt chaos that followed: a 5-minute stripping of the floor and stage in full view of the audience, merely to bring on stage a huge TV screen displaying swans fighting, a hoops act, and the cast showing skin while posing inside lit boxes on wheels. The story then had to work uphill to return to the lake and Tchaikovsky’s score, which would have been the perfect ending after the Black and White Swan pas de deux. Instead, this false ending and flight of fancy killed the atmosphere.

The brilliant soundscape, created by Jethro Woodward, is a testament to the power of music in elevating storytelling. It was a singular audio experience in its transportive mix of modern percussive, music hall nostalgia, and the otherworldly. Incorporating elements of well-known fragments of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, it infused a touch of the fantastical, perfectly punctuating and underscoring the action. The remix of ‘Dance of the Cygnets’ was a fabulous adaptation to accompany a very amusing duck dance, while other musical moments whisked the audience away to a realm both familiar and strange.

Circa is Australia’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, and “Duck Pond” serves up circus avant-garde with a side of Vegas flair, which should please audiences expecting the wow factor. However, the combination of dramatic and absurd did not consistently mesh. Less could have been more. It would benefit from refining the narrative structure to bring home the denouement.

This production shines brightest when it pauses to breathe and allows the simplicity of effortless skill and stillness to blend, holding space for the audience, conveying powerful moments of fluidity and trust for the story to speak for itself.

See for information on the dates of the Circa tour.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Highway of Lost Hearts: Heart, Soul, and the Open Road.

Highway of Lost Hearts

Highway of Lost Hearts Rating

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‘Highway of Lost Hearts’. What a beautiful title for a beautiful play. A captivating blend of gritty road trip realism and magical storytelling that explores an individual’s search for a soul and need for redemption. Mary Anne Butler’s superbly adapted novel is a True Blue, One Woman, Aussie travelling tale, where red earth meets fire, flood and drought, and ancient mountains loom over spirit-stirring waters. Our paths are both uniquely our own and universally relatable. Wherever the open road takes you, your own thoughts, dreams, and demons will be right there in the passenger seat, refusing to be left behind.

Mot is a remarkable woman whose once-unbreakable spirit is now weathered and worn. Detached from her sense of purpose, identity, and relationships, she is lost in a sea of meaninglessness, longing for peace while hungering for connection. At this crossroads in life, she’s grappling with the questions all women of a certain age face when they finally shed society’s expectations. But the spark that once drove her has flickered out.

This is a uniquely female pilgrimage and point of view. Mot is not afraid to entrust us with insights into the delicate balance between desire and defence. She is resilient in the face of uncertainty as she propels down a long and lonely 1000km stretch of relentless highway.

Director Adam Deusien optimises a pared-down and intuitive approach to these epic themes. He uses a luminous lighting design (Becky Russell), and simplistic, streamlined set (Annemaree Dalziel) which utilises forced perspective with long drops of sheer drapes. This evokes a never-ending thoroughfare where horizons expand, hopes arise, and possibilities are boundless.

Smith tackles the role of Mot, a formidable challenge of what is effectively a 70-minute monologue and (fittingly) solo performance. It’s a feat of focused endurance. Accompanied by her faithful imaginary canine companion, she matter-of-factly envisions a kaleidoscope of encounters with new people and old memories, blurring the lines between reality and reflection. With just a few basic props, a ‘she’ll be right’ laconic tone and her physicality, Smith slowly weaves a winding narrative tapestry. It’s a deeply intimate story experience shared through mind, body and immense heart.

Sophie Jones and Abby Smith imbue the beats of Mot’s story with an original and hauntingly beautiful vocal and instrumental soundscape of guitar, keyboard, harmonica and percussion. They could have sung acapella because both were strong singers who created a rich and full sound. At times the mike amplification level was a little overpowering. When it was more subdued, their lovely harmonies resonated with a melancholic depth and sacredness that echoed the emotional terrain of Mot’s odyssey of grief and growth.

Only 10 years old and on the HSC drama list, ‘Highway of Lost Hearts’ is already a distinctly Australian classic for a reason. It’s a reminder that the roads we travel are not just physical, but also emotional and spiritual. Anyone who roams solo will innately understand Mot, the fragility of her heart and the transformative power of travel. After all, the true purpose of a road trip is to connect with something greater. The rest may ponder the challenge of self-discovery and how we are all called to take this journey.

Like Mot, Arts on Tour and ‘Highway of Lost Hearts’ has ventured far and wide, concluding its performances in the Land of the Dharug People at the Riverside Theatre. The next time it revives and swings by this part of town, make sure you join the road to inner wisdom and delight in discovering more about yourself along the way. The trip will not always be what you expect, but you’ll leave more enlightened.

For future Arts On Tour performances, see:

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

Photography by Hannah Groggan

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Bernie Dieters Club Kabarett

Bernie Dieters Club Kabarett

Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett Rating

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Bernie Dieter is back with a bootylicious BANG and its settings on stun!

Dare to enter if you can handle the heat. A sultry fusion of circus, song and sexy burlesque, where the thrill of the centre ring meets the seduction of the velvet curtain. Temptation breaks all the boring boundaries and sinks itself into your lap. Ach, mein Gott! What a ride! You must see it darling- it’s BEAUTIFUL!

Like a glittering diamond in the rough under the dome of the Moore Park Spiegeltent, ‘Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett’ is a lesson in surrendering to the decadence of hedonism and celebrating the human form in all its glory. Settled within the intimate shadows and velvety atmosphere, we are offered a tasty blend of gritty underground danger and pure, unadulterated flair without ever tipping the scales into crassness or whimsy. This requires astounding skill, my friend.

What’s the X-factor that makes this experience so uniquely delicious? It captures and embraces the unbridled spirit and liberated essence of Weimar-era cabaret. This show is a thoroughbred, real deal cabaret that knows exactly how to deliver and doesn’t hold back. Vibrantly avant-garde and at times ironically grotesque, it provocatively pushes buttons, relishing in its own signature sauce of salaciousness. A big juicy f**k you to conformity and the mundane.

Talent upon talent upon talent. The spotlight ignites seven heavenly bodies – titillating tornadoes of effortless circus expertise. Our hair is literally blown back, our eyes ache from the dazzle, our spirits soar with the thrill of it all. This is a full on fatal attraction of strength, skill, and seduction in the form of a mesmerising array of aerial feats, fiery displays, hoop artistry, whip cracking and contortionism. Eight outstanding acts deliver the perfect balance of clowning and spell binding agility, each one jaw-droppingly unforgettable in its own way and expertly woven together by the quick-witted banter of the incomparable Mistress of Ceremonies, the marvellous Miss Dieter, a ringmaster-class of song and repartee.

How can I possibly describe this powerhouse of a woman? She’s a vocal force, delivering numbers with bodacious energy and precision that’s both captivating and rare. Backed by a very tight and pulsing 3 piece band, Dieter fearlessly embraces contrasts, pivoting from unbridled ferocity in ‘Rebel Yell’ to tender vulnerability in a haunting rendition of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. A presence that’s both commanding and nuanced, she weaves a sonic tapestry that’s utterly immersive; she defies expectations and forges a connection that’s both raw and profound. Dieter IS cabaret.

The ultimate wild child of the Club circuit family, ‘Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabaret’ shatters the mold, of leaving similar variety shows for dust. The finale is a glorious personal homage to the alchemy of art and drinking, where transformation and reinvention converge in a dazzlingly gutsy and original song.

As you gather your wits to depart, the stage lies in perfect disarray, a telltale testament to the night’s divine debauchery. Littered with party popper innards, discarded costumes, confetti, shreds of balloon rubber, feathers and a spray of white powder which I suspect may represent an illicit substance 😉 This is the aftermath of a night of extravagant fun.

Bernie, you devil, you’ve done it again! You’ve released a kaleidoscope of creativity and set the bar ridiculously high with a night that revisits and then rewrites the rules of cabaret. The impossible is now possible and your imagination knows no bounds.

This is the ultimate winter retreat from the chill of a turbulent world. Indulge in the warmth of Dieter’s organised chaos to help you forget and play for a while, to remind you of the unapologetic, permissible pleasures of being human. All are welcome. So leave your inhibitions at the door, grab your favourite poison and sit back as the candles and stage are lit for a night you won’t forget.

Danke Darling Dieter!

‘Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabaret’ plays at Sydney Spiegeltent Moore Park Entertainment Quarter until July 28th. See for details.
What are you doing??? Click the link and hustle those tickets!

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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The Spook

The Spook

The Spook Rating

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Travel back to the heart of 1960s working class Australia with ‘The Spook,’ by Melissa Reeves, where the spectre of betrayal looms large and true friendships are put to the test.

Set within the sleepy country town of Bendigo, we are drawn into an examination of the impact of external threats on community dynamics, and the frenzy of Cold War paranoia. These themes are personal, local and global. What makes them resonate is that this biting satire is based on real life events.

Director Casey Moon-Watton presents a thought provoking and at times confronting plot packed with political discourse and fiery debates. Audiences will listen carefully, perhaps even access Google afterwards when words like ‘Trotskyist’ and ‘neo-Marxism’ are casually dropped into the conversation. Loyalty, camaraderie and treachery interweave, yet despite the seriousness of these themes, it’s also unexpectedly funny and at times wryly witty.

In the tense Menzies era, where neighbours could be seen as enemies, the characters are vividly real in their flaws. Moon-Wattons’ open, minimalist and deliberately incomplete set design places each character’s emotional journey front and centre while serving as an ironic metaphor of the story’s exploration of hidden truths and obscured realities.

We experience this story through the eyes of young and naive Martin (Cameron Drake), who is teetering on the brink of adulthood, yet lacks direction and ambition. Struggling to find his identity, he is trapped within the confines of a stifling and banally homogenous community. As with most young adults, Martin just wants to be liked, seen and belong. This makes him perfect fodder for recruitment as a spy against the local Communist Party. Drake presents an agonising mix of adolescent awkwardness and bravado. As Martin slowly comes of age, he is forced to find his moral compass through the gradual realisation that life isn’t a game of heroes and villains.

Trixie, his watchful and disapproving mother, (Courtney Farrow) is everything you’d expect to be in a middle aged woman living in a small post war country town; stoic, repressed and afraid of change. Farrow did well to widen the generational gap despite being quite young for this role. She juggles quick costume and character changes with aplomb to also play Phyllis, the bright but unwitting member and partner of world weary party leader Frank (Rawdon Waller). Frank is the strong but abrasive voice of reason and Waller displayed an accurate understanding of an angry man battling within a system that is rapidly heading towards self-destruction.

Brett Joachim is Martin’s amusingly aloof Controller – in every sense of the word. He is oily and snarky as he manipulates and corrupts his charge’s innocence. He knows Martin is missing a father figure and confidante, which makes his actions and nonchalant lack of empathy quite ghastly.

Tida Dhanommitrapap has the daunting task of playing triple roles. Jean, a perpetually late party member and a stiff-upper lipped policewoman in Act 2. Her main role is Annette, Martin’s girlfriend, who delights in having something apart from Pick-a-Box to distract herself from her utter boredom of small town, small minded constraints and complete indifference to her pending marriage. Both an accomplice and hindrance, she enjoys the perceived glamour of her second-hand status without any of the moral repercussions.

(Nathan Heinrich and Kate Kelly) deliver solid and authentic performances, while producing credible accents as the mysterious Greek couple George and Eli Tassak. Their sad plight and immigration journey is compelling and raises the stakes in forcing Martin to see the real people and motivation behind the “right little nest of dirty Reds”.

Geoff Jones cleverly weaves a subtly chilling soundscape, complemented by an array of pop music and protest songs during scene changes. This enhanced the atmosphere of the era, adding tension and mood, while Anthea Brown’s costumes captured the ultimately conservative modesty of a country town lagging behind the trends and heady days of the swinging 60’s.

We have the indulgence to observe this distinctly Australian zeitgeist through the unique lens of historical context. In light of current politics around China, Palestine and Russia, it is more relevant today than ever. Will it never not be relevant?

‘The Spook’ serves as a timely reminder, highlighting the cyclical nature of history while injecting fresh perspectives into ongoing debates, with a distinctly nostalgic flavour. See this show to reignite your political fervour, embrace your apathy, or simply laugh at the consequences of both.

‘The Spook’ by The Pymble Players plays from 15th May – 8th June 2024. See for details.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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