Circus under my bed. Flying Fruit Fly Circus. Artistic director Jodie Farrugia. Writer Sebastien Pasche. Canberra Theatre. Closes July 18. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
The smell of hot popcorn wafts around the auditorium. Clowns dressed in overalls help patrons to their seats by sheltering them with large umbrellas. Others dust the seats, and occasionally apply their dusting rags to the patrons as well. Onstage more performers in overalls sweep the stage and argue over a ladder. The lights dim. The show begins.
Circus under my bed from Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Australia's national youth circus company, tells the story of a young girl, Celeste, who is meant to be packing up her bedroom before she and her family move house the next day. She is reluctant to get on with the job, and she imagines that a host of make-believe, magical characters arrive to help her. As they engage with her they show off a range of circus skills – tumbling, acrobatics, juggling, trapeze acts, hula hoop work, and more including a wonderful balancing act involving several chairs balancing precariously on top of each other. Sometimes the voice of the girl's mother interrupts to inquire how the packing is proceeding. Normality is restored for a moment and the characters from under Celeste's bed disappear, just in case the mother makes an appearance.
The big disappointment is that the story is told in words via an offstage recording. While it works nicely for the mother, whom we never actually see, it means that the characters we do see onstage lose a huge part of their personality. As a result, my favourite scenes were those where there were no bothersome offstage voices and the performers showed their true spirit. In particular, I enjoyed the scene involving a performer dressed as a chef who juggled a knife, a frying pan and an apple and then set nine plates spinning on tall, spindly sticks. What was so enjoyable about it was that it showed the cast, whose ages range from nine to 19, as strong performers. They shouted and yelled at the chef as one by one the plates started to slow down and wobble, forcing the chef to rush from one to another to keep them going. It was noisy, physical and generated lots of onstage activity.
Some sections were way less sophisticated in concept than others. An early scene where the circus characters help Celeste pack her soft toys involved some of the cast dressing up in dog or sheep costumes and crawling around the stage on all fours. While this section also involved some nicely choreographed tumbling routines, it did make the older members of the cast look a little ridiculous. Nevertheless, the show was well staged and professionally costumed and eventually everything does get packed away.