December 01, 1994

Vile Bodies

Filed under: Archive,Interstate,Theatre


Rock’n’Roll Circus
Space, November, 1994.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The Rock’n’Roll Circus follows a distinguished succession of new circus acts in Australia. Circus Oz has remained one of our most enduring and innovative stage companies and the taste for acrobatics, illusion, comedy and satire has been fuelled by acts as diverse as the Compagnie Philippe Genty, Archaos, Desoxy, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and Ra Ra Zoo. The Rock’n’Roll show, Bodyslam, owes more than a little to all of these but seems to have learned nothing from any of them.

Directed and designed by David Bell with some splashy lighting from David Walters, Bodyslam opens with a promising burst of poleclimbing, bicycle pyramids and the other signatures of the genre. Along with the hard-bop soprano sax tapes Stephanie McCaw’s vibraharp and percussion adds crisp definition to the show. The precision is good, the skills are more than acceptable and there is dry ice to burn.

Then come the fat people. Russell Dykstra and Siobhan Lawless bobbing about in rubber suits and tutus -signifying excess ? Signifying nothing. The return of a bicycle loaded with cooks and chooks introduces a motif- chickens, eggs, something. The fat people return. To give the show some literary cred we get the O too solid flesh speech from Hamlet. It turns out to be a weightwatcher soliloquy.

We were promised “a freewheeling look at our obsessions and the pleasure and pain of beauty, diets, shape, size, desire and attraction.” What we get is unexamined reinforcement of the view that slim is beautiful. So why wouldn’t Ms Fatperson want to climb in the Houdini box and emerge sans shackles and hey, twenty kilos. And let’s have the beautiful blokes eating cream cakes in front of Mr Fatperson, that’ll give just the psychopathic motivation he needs later on when he not only simulates necrophilia but whoops snot all over the woman’s face as well.

A monologue from Siobhan Lawless explores the notion of a whole body. Suspended above the supine form of Eleanor Davies, she describes a young woman amputee who rages and despairs against, the able-bodied, the hospital and the “fat slut” who is lucky enough to be nursing her. She even summons the much called upon shade of Frida Kahlo. Derek Ives and Kareena Oates follow with some chook jokes and, even more hilariously, there is a butcher’s knife to dig around in the woman’s entrails. Hey presto, some bits of meat to juggle. And, yo, an electric drill and some simulated penetration. Will this fun ever stop ? Not until the fire-eaters have simulated a rape scene on the g-strung Ms Oates.

For those who returned after half time there is the male bonding and a lengthy tongue kiss performed not as a sexual liberation but as just another shock-the-squares tactic in this exploitationist goo of a show. The rapee returns squirming skimpily along the floor towards her weeping swain. And, look why don’t you ?- he keeps pulling out hankies, will they never stop ? What a clever trick, let’s applaud. But wait, this is political after all. She’s slapped his face. There are other losers. A young woman swallows a razor blade, pukes blood and expires in the arms of a friend. Nice one.

The acrobatics- head to head balancing and other corporeal stacking performed by Rudi Mineur, Steve Brown and others – are skilful and engaging, as is Eleanor Davies’ reverse strip on the tightrope. But Dykstra’s return on stilts as Mr Fatbusinessperson- complete with that visual cliche of the modern stage, the mobile phone- signals a return to the unresolved, unfunny misanthropy that undercuts the show.

The ghost of Archaos lurks everywhere in Bodyslam but nowhere is the same careful balance of elements and meanings evident. This show implies a concern with questions of sexual power and the abuse of women but it fails to frame the meaning of their own performances. It is not enough to say you want your audience to work it out for themselves – that would justify any arbitrary assemblage. Circus Oz have always intelligently reworked gender meanings – in costumes, role and so on. Archaos, more conventional in many ways, freely tangle with fetishism and taboo but they judge it shrewdly. Rock’n’Roll Circus in contrast have chucked together lumpy text, whizzbang stunts and cynical half-baked schlock. The word for this is gratuitous. Worse still, it makes lousy entertainment.

“Vile Bodies” The Adelaide Review, No.134, December, 1994, p.39.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment