`Isnt it amazing what people can do with their bodies? said Captain Frodo the contortionist, writhing like a python as he tried to get head, both arms and a leg through a 25cm tennis racquet.
Of course he wasnt stuck, but it was one part of Circus Ozs latest show I couldnt bear to watch, as he dislocated his shoulders and his elbows, and I waited for the bones to crack. The other dont-look number was the clown on top of a swaying pole, trying to replace a light bulb but lets leave my childhood traumas out of this.
They just get better and better, this company. Some of the old favourites are still there, like the roof walk, or fly-on-the-ceiling routine, but now, instead of a movie detective or an Olympic sprint champion, Tim Coldwell is a circus clown going to his dressing room, putting on his makeup, swigging from his hip flask, and then climbing the slippery pole all upside down, of course. Well-worn clichs like `bottoms up, and `taking the weight off your feet? become hysterically funny in this inverted context, and had the whole audience in stitches.
The new acts, though, are just as witty, especially the cockatoos on the flying trapeze, dressed in yellow and squawking their heads off, hatching out of eggs, falling off the trapeze, and dropping their popcorn (poopcorn?) all over the ring. Youll never be able to hear Tchaikovskys 1812 Overture again without sniggering, and pole dancing takes on a whole new meaning as five fully-clothed acrobats make scantily clad club dancers seem the amateurs they are.
How many people can you fit on a bicycle? Circus Oz can do eleven, although when the wheels are on fire, as they frequently are, most of the performers wisely hop off. Dont try this one at home, kids, or the sword swallowing it takes years to control the gagging reflex, we were told, and it was obvious that none of the audience had undergone that kind of training, to judge from their reactions as a metre of cold steel disappeared down somebodys throat.
But you may like to have a go at making a human pyramid, as long as youve got some soft grass to fall on, and see if you can rival the Circus Oz version. I think I counted fifteen – I may be wrong about the exact number, but I know they were at least four storeys high, so to speak. And you could try some of the slo-mo wheelies, or the front wheel variety, as long as you promise to wear protective head, knee and elbow gear. (Its the anxious mother in me speaking, you understand.)
I could go on endlessly trawling through the acts, each one as good as, if not better than, the last, but if you know Circus Oz you dont need me to tell you how good they are. And if you dont know their work, youre in for a treat, as long as you avoid the very scary Mellissa Fyfe, the ball-breaking Strong Woman (or so my neophyte male companion feared) who can balance three concrete blocks on her stomach as she does a back bend, not moving a muscle as the clown smashes them with a mallet.
Rest assured that no animals were injured during this production, as of course this is an all-human show (well, there may be some debate about some of them!), unless you except the aerialist dressed as a carousel pony; and there are other laudable touches in the show, like an acknowledgment of the traditional Aboriginal owners, and a collection at the end for asylum-seekers and refugees in Australia.
Circus Oz is for everyone, except perhaps tiny toddlers, but even those I saw there were transfixed until they fell asleep. Its the raucous late-primary-early-secondary kids who will get most out of it, but believe me, even the most cynical adults cant fail to be entertained.
So put them on your must-see list they out-perform any reality television show youre likely to see.
Original 2002 version devised by the performers and co-directed by Russell Cheek and Mike Finch
Playing Wednesday to Sunday until 3 April at 7.30pm, with 1.30pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. No evening performance on 3 April.
Running time: 2 hours, including interval