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February 16, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Smoke and Mirrors

Published by on 16 Februrary 2011

Watching Smoke and Mirrors is a little like a pick’n’mix for the senses. It’s difficult to know whether it would be better to begin this review by first mentioning the random appearance of rabbits, the chanteuse with something to hide, or the melancholy trapeze artist. Or perhaps I should first cover the deliciously over-the-top ringmaster, lambasting the audience within the confines of a lavishly designed circus tent?

Smokes and Mirrors is aptly named; the audience is never sure what to expect next. You’ll either trip over your own predictions or decide it’s best not to have any at all. The vaudeville element of the show is rather devilish in that respect; it forces you to stop trying to make connections between segments and just enjoy the fact it’s entertaining, it looks good and, in most cases, rocks out to great music.

There was the tap dancer who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, jousting with the pink-cheeked drummer over who had the final say. The ringmaster tripped in every other minute to slip in his own brand of comedy, teasing the audience with horse whips and hilariously lecherous gazes. Audience members seemed to squirm under his gaze, but that seemed to be the intention; he was just gearing everyone up for the next round.

In every performance there was someone new to admire. There’s the powerful vocal performance of a woman with something to hide, juxtaposed ingeniously with her choice of song. While the trapeze artist and her delicate costumes probably fluttered male hearts and dazzled everyone’s eyes with her nimble acrobatics, women probably didn’t half mind the male trio bending and flexing to grungy rock music while performing shudderingly dextrous handstand manoeuvres. The musicians also dazzled us into submission, with strong performances all round and the clear sense they were having as much fun as the audience.

Then there’s the rabbits, and there’s no explanation as to why they’re there. Perhaps there is some deeper meaning to their presence, but if not, they still fulfilled their purpose as a useful between-performance (and sometimes mid-performance) distraction. It all added to the kind of warped reality in which the Smoke and Mirrors audience is enveloped.

Aside from the show itself, there were some crowd-management issues; the queue was double-ended, meaning several people accidentally cut off others in the (quite long) queue; and there simply wasn’t enough seating space for the crowd, meaning at least twenty or thirty people were left standing up the back for the entire show. Perhaps they had standing-only tickets, but it doesn’t seem likely given the length of the show and the fact it also included a fifteen-minute intermission. So if you definitely need a seat for this show, make sure you queue early (and preferably avoid the double-ended queue debacle).

Apart from these hiccups, the show is obviously well-developed, having already been played to sold-out shows at the Sydney festival (and, by the looks of it, continuing to sell out in Melbourne as well). Perhaps the most memorable thing about Smoke and Mirrors is the strength of the performances within the show. The performers didn’t treat the cabaret as a kind of sideshow to the acrobatics, music and dancing. Rather, it became a central tenet of the show, linking each element to the other and creating an ethereal whole.

I have to agree with the other reviews I have read since seeing this show; Smoke and Mirrors is a rare gem. It’s uncommon to get a group of performers happy to share the spotlight with equal aplomb, or a show so carefully crafted as to extract just the right amount of surreal, other-worldly appeal.

Addendum: an Arts Centre contact has confirmed that Smoke and Mirrors does sells standing-only tickets, so never fear! If you’re standing for the entire show, you’ll definitely know about it before you get there.


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