Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Meriton Festival Village, Sydney
January 6, 2018

Ever since La Clique came to Australia as part of the 2007 Sydney Festival, we have had a steady stream of cabaret-burlesque-circus shows presented in spiegeltents for arts festivals and at other venues around the country. Audiences clearly love them and continue to flock to them in their droves.

RIOT, Sydney FestivalThe cast of RIOT. Photograph © Fiona Morgan

RIOT at this year’s Sydney Festival is cut from a similar cloth, yet manages to offer something a little different at the same time. An Irish variety show from the Irish production company Thisispopbaby, starring renowned drag queen Panti Bliss, RIOT premiered in Dublin in 2016 where it won the award for Best Production at the Dublin Fringe. Along with the expected comedy and acrobatics, it also includes Irish dancing, singing and blistering rap monologues with social and political points to make.

On the face of it, it sounds like an unusual mix that mightn’t work together, but it does. The fact that the audience, expecting fun and games, is suddenly dead quiet through the monologues, which address issues such as the artist as dissident, capitalism, prejudice and the state of the nation, is due to their urgent, fierce delivery by Emmet Kirwan. Particularly powerful is a piece about a young single mother struggling to create a life for herself and her son.

Panti Bliss, who became one of the prominent figures of the marriage equality debate in Ireland, introduces herself via a mash-up of lip-synched samples from films including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Mommie Dearest, and later riffs on Sydney’s lock-out laws and marriage equality, as well as being true to yourself and pursuing your dreams even if you are a little boy longing to be like Farrah Fawcett.

RIOT, Sydney FestivalLords of Strut. Photograph © Fiona Morgan

While the glam Panti Bliss is always immaculately attired, comedy dance duo Lords of Strut (aka Cian Kinsella and Cormac Mohally), who found fame on Britain’s Got Talent, are at the other end of the sartorial spectrum with outfits ranging from brightly coloured Spandex leggings to a cling wrap mankini. One of their very funny routines involves Jesus, audience participation and pool noodles. Meanwhile, the other half of the duo attempts to squeeze through a ring (likely to prompt memories of Captain Frodo and his tennis racket head if you’ve seen La Clique or La Soirée).

Former Gaelic footballer Ronan Brady does a surprisingly poetic aerial hoop routine to a Michael Harding monologue, and then a cheeky striptease. There’s also Irish dancing from Philip Connaughton and Deidre Griffin, complete with giant balloon heads at one point, and singing (from Irish airs to pop songs) by four vocalists (there is no flyer or programme listing names). All in all, it’s huge fun, with something to say.


RIOT plays in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Meriton Festival Village, Hyde Park North, Sydney until January 28, then Arts Centre Melbourne for Midsumma Festival, January 31 – Febraury 9.

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