Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Circus is leaving town

…….and boy, am I relieved. I never ever wanted to go to a circus as a child or as an adult. Love Chunks however, was keen to ensure that our daughter, Sapphire, (6 going on 37) got the opportunity to attend at least one event during the final day of Adelaide’s Fringe Festival.

Naturally, the title of the festival gives you a good clue as to what it’s about – not dodgy childhood hairstyles involving bowls, sticky tape or your mother’s shaky hand holding a pair of scissors; but acts that consider themselves on the fringe of mainstream. Admittedly, we have avoided the shows such as ‘Elbow Skin’, ‘The Bubonic Play’ and any form of movement that is categorised as ‘Modern Interpretative Dance’. Instead, we have opted for a well known comedian (the gorgeously cheeky Scotsman Danny Bhoy), the free (Buskers’ Street Festival) and today’s family-friendly ‘Circus Oz.’

As with the majority of (mostly talented) buskers, the circus performers always look like drama school drop-outs who like the alternative life and want to get ‘out there’ and live life on their terms. In packs of other like-minded alternative performers of course. So when we strolled – expectantly in the case of Love Chunks and Sapphire, and with dread in the case of myself – into the tent foyer, I was not surprised at the scene before us. A dominating smell of patchouli oil, greenie seat cleaner and BO floated in the air, managing to cover up the smell of hot popcorn and the tent’s own rubber lining.

There seemed to be at least a dozen performers working the stalls – ice-creams, drinks, popcorn, key rings, t-shirts and the traditional clown game. It also seemed to be a contractual obligation of their employment to wear either a frilly skirt (the boys) or a kilt (girls), showing us the tattoos on their stomachs, arms or cleavage. Now, I hate generalising as much as the next person, and far be it for me to embrace stereotypes, but it did appear as though the lesbian fraternity was overly represented inside the tent. OK, so shaved blonde buzzcuts atop muscular shoulders and heavily tattooed necks might not be the sole domain of the girlie-loves-girlie crowd, but the hairy armpits, doc martens and the snogging certainly convinced me that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

The blokes were a bit more mixed, although they all seemed to be happy enough in their short little skirts and their mid-riff military tops complete with epaulettes. The seventy-five year old spinster called Eunice within me started leaping to the fore: Hmmm, those uniforms are rather grimy and just need a nice long soak in napisan to get them bright again. The boys could do with a good thorough scrub down as well…..

Soon it was time to find our seats on the benches and get on with the show. My aversion to circuses had not abated as I found myself gasping for air amongst the sweat of the crowd. The lighting guy nearest us clambered expertly up his pole, all the while giving us a rather unwanted view up his skirt – he was definitely of the Fat Bastard fraternity, yet happy enough to let his fat back flaps hang over the back of his seat amongst the scaffolding. The ringmistress introduced the acts and looked about as wholesome as Paris Hilton in front of a bedroom videocam. She was clearly a frustrated cabaret singer (the ringmistress, not Paris) and liked to add more than just a subtle touch of sex and the macabre to her actions and her movements. At one stage she wore painfully high stilettos that surely could only have been purchased from a fetish shop and later, a black vinyl bodysuit that fully embraced the word ‘mistress’. Lord knows what she did with the poor clown after the show ended.

The circus band, too, preferred playing on the edge of chaos which resulted in a nightmarish clash of sounds that made Sapphire cover her ears with her hands, shouting, “This hurts me!”

As for the performers, they were brilliant. The acrobatics, gymnastic lifts, bike-riding and even hula-hooping was incredibly skilful and left me admiring the strength they must all have in their upper arms. And yet…… and yet there was still something missing; some special oomph and sizzle that should have utterly dazzled the audience. Eunice reared up again and explained that: Well, it’s all very nice to be able to keep 20 hoops a-wiggling around your body, but what good is that to you when you’re 80? You can’t tell me she’s on a decent superannuation plan and how on earth is she going to meet a fella doing that for a living?… Thanks Eunice, it might not be the fellas she’s hoping to attract. The old spinster may have had a point though – a lot of the physical stunts had been performed a week earlier in Rundle Street by some buskers from the UK and Sweden – without music, lighting, fancy costumes or slightly weird ringmistresses to introduce them. The cacaphonic music and the blackness of the big top only served to distance them from us and make their efforts appear kind of un-exciting.

Circuses have always seemed very old-fashioned to me – this one may not rely on animals or painted-up clowns, but the slightly seedy air of the performers and their choice of costumes reminded me of the annual Adelaide Show where the sideshow alley workers always looked as though they were on parole. Or maybe remand, which explains how they can pack up and move on at night so quickly.

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