Carnival of the Animals. Circa. Canberra Theatre, September 15-17
French composer Camille Saint-Saens might be a little surprised if he were to see his musical suite, Carnival of the Animals, interpreted by the Brisbane-based, physical theatre group Circa. But then he would probably enjoy himself immensely, as did the very mixed audience of young and old when Circa's 21st century version of Carnival of the Animals opened at the Canberra Theatre.
The show is basically a series of circus acts – tumbling, acrobatics, physical gags, trapeze stunts, balancing acts and the like. We see a terrific range of skills, well performed by a cast of just seven performers. Impossible shapes and breathtaking poses predominate as these artists hurl themselves around the stage with abandon. But there are many amusing moments built into these demonstrations of circus skills: a trapeze artist, for example, shows us his fine breaststroke skills while swinging high above the stage.
At the same time, the cast members incorporate into their acts the movements of a range of birds and animals as suggested by Saint-Saens' well-known music (with some musical additions to extend its length to a performance of 50 minutes). Sometimes the movements are initially quite subtle, a slight twist of the neck to suggest a swan. Sometimes they are more obvious, two hands held together at chest height to indicate the paws of a kangaroo. And I have to say it is amazing what a kangaroo can do with a skipping rope! Then sometimes the animal in question becomes obvious when the cast members identify that animal with their voices: the snarl of an angry cat, the cackle of a brood of hens, for example. And of course there is the music to add to the effect, as well as a wonderful series of projections onto a back screen. Those projections, all beautifully realised and often imbued with movement, are sometimes abstract designs, sometimes landscapes or cityscapes, sometimes animals or birds, and even at one stage some dinosaur skeletons. Elephants are first introduced to us by a drawing, created on the spot with light, giving fascinating movement to a still projection of a graffiti wall.
There is also plenty of audience involvement in good circus tradition. At one stage several sharks (of the inflatable variety) come off the stage and circle around the audience. But the young in the audience – and the old of course – especially enjoyed the red balloons, which, towards the end of the show, were pushed out into the auditorium to be batted around by whomever managed to get a hand to them.
This show never seemed to lag. It had the audience clapping and laughing from beginning to end. The verdict from my young companions aged 7 and 9: "It was awesome. Can we see it again?"