Big Top, Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta
January 6 matinee, 2018
Model Citizens is the first show created by Circus Oz’s new Artistic Director Rob Tannion, who joined the Company early in 2016 – and it’s an auspicious beginning. Created shortly after his arrival, the show has toured extensively and now arrives in Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival.
Tannion trained in Australia as a dancer, then lived in Europe for two decades where he performed with companies including Lloyd Newson’s internationally renowned DV8 Physical Theatre in the UK. Not surprisingly, Model Citizens is a more tightly choreographed piece than is usual for Circus Oz. It also has a slicker, less ratbag look than past productions though it retains the knockabout quality for which the Company is so loved.
Using a loose theme around Australian identity, conformity, acceptance of difference and tolerance, Model Citizens begins with the performers moving like automatons in uniform blue. The one dissenter – Mitch Jones (aka Captain Ruin) – who is tattooed and sporting a hot pink Mohawk and vibrantly coloured Lycra, is quickly forced to don blue overalls. But gradually as the show evolves, the performers discover their individuality.
The design by Michael Baxter is inspired by plastic model-kit frames, and wittily reimagines the circus apparatus – so there’s a springboard that looks like a giant peg, climbing poles resembling a safety pin, an over-sized cotton reel, giant underpants and two steam irons used like skates. The holes in a giant pair of scissors become diving hoops, while Jones uses giant credit cards to build a house of cards as a vivid metaphor for credit debt.
The first act is a bit of a slow build but by the second act the show has really hit its straps. There are fun and games during the interval as performers dressed like sheep roam the Big Top, interacting with an excited audience while chased by a yapping sheep dog.
The sheep then feature in a comic routine that incorporates a spoof of the three cygnets in Swan Lake as well as some hip hop. Political points are made in The Intolerance Song (“I tolerate diversity, just not in my backyard”) sung by performer Freyja Edney with ukulele walking through the Big Top – a shame that not all the lyrics were clearly audible. There’s also a very funny ode to the Aussie barbie to the tune of Waltzing Matilda (“And he sang as he washed off the grease and lit the mozzie coil, who’ll come and worship my Weber with me?”) sung by Jeremy Hopkins, one of the two band members. Under Music Director Ania Reynolds, the eclectic score has a driving energy but also includes gentler, more lyrical sections.
There’s knife-throwing (at unpaid bills on a fridge door), fire-eating, hula hoop, balancing, a stunning trapeze act by Jarred Dewey in red stilettos, and a very beautiful slack rope routine by Alex Weibel Weibel who ends up playing the violin at the same time. And how fabulous that the strength of the women is showcased in a strong-woman/balancing routine for the five female performers. Fierce!
Model Citizens plays in the Circus Oz Big Top, Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta until January 27