Theatre review

Bendy, bawdy and brilliant

Presented by Spiegelworld. Under the spiegeltent, Canberra Theatre Centre forecourt.
Until November 3.

Yes, there are "hot, taut bodies" in Empire, as the advertising suggests. And there are plenty of sexy, brassy, crude bits as well, mostly performed by the hosts of the show, Oscar (Jonathan Taylor) and Fanny (Anne Goldmann). Their verbal and body language is sometimes merely suggestive, but at other times blatant.

And gentlemen, be careful where you sit if you want to avoid being recruited for the bawdiest part of the show. Bouquets to the man from the front row on opening night who endured his recruitment beautifully. After he was able to escape the tiny circular stage, the "circus ring", with only a shoe missing, he was rewarded with a bottle of beer. He deserved at least a bottle of champagne.

But although the innuendos and the flagrantly obvious sexual references and actions were greeted with universal hilarity by a packed spiegeltent, Empire is also filled with breathtaking examples of the circus arts. I had some favourites. A trio of women who hail from Ukraine and who are known as the Gorilla Girls performed a pyramidal balancing act with one of them executing amazingly controlled contortion handstands at the top of the pyramid. Yasu Yoshikawa, the Half-Naked Asian Dude Wearing Pigtails, demonstrated his impressive skills with the Cyr wheel, a large hula-hoop, and the German wheel, an extra-large version of the spinning wheel that entertains pet mice. His tricks were amazing enough in themselves, but the performance was astonishing for the manner in which he was able to control his props in such a small space. But they were just two of a spectacular array of acts.

The show is very loud with the noise coming partly from the cheering, shouting audience. But the closing act had the audience spellbound. Scarcely a sound could be heard as Memet Bilgin, the 3D Graffiti Guy, began by balancing a single feather on a small branch and then proceeded to construct a kind of hand-held Alexander Calder-like mobile by balancing 13 more branches on this initially simple structure. His control of this fragile construction was amazing, and watch for the ending, which will leave you pondering. Does a feather really have such power?

The show was expertly constructed and paced. It is good to be seated early because the cast wanders through the auditorium and interacts with the audience as they are being seated. They are dressed as their characters: Carrot Man (Vlad Ivashkin) and Lime Green Lady (Aiusha Khadzh Khamed) who later perform an adagio act, for example, or Polka Dot Woman (Mariia Beisembetova) and Blue Tarpauleon (Denis Petaov) who later give us a daredevil roller skating routine.

Costumes by Angus Strathie are spectacular. I loved his stunning slinky black dress with its purple sequinned spiderweb pattern and matching black and purple wig for the vocalist Miss Purple (Casey Jamerson).

Empire is not for the prude or the faint-hearted, and not for children. But it is a hugely theatrical show and performed by a wonderful cast of fearless artists.