It seems the older I get the more faint-hearted I become, and the tricks performed in Tempest in a Teacup reinforced this fact for me. The sword-swallowing I could actually watch, but when Manx lifted three bowling balls chained to his ears, seeing that lobe get stretched was incredibly intense. The only comfort to me was knowing that Manx and Little Miss Bones were obviously experienced professionals who had most likely performed these tricks countless times and nothing should go wrong, and thankfully nothing did, except for the technical mishaps.
Throughout the show Manx attempted to control the music from his watch and iPad on stage. Unfortunately, technology being technology, songs did not start when they should have, started playing on their own, or began to play and then skipped to the next track. While he attempted to fix this, Manx would let us know how embarrassed he was and to talk among ourselves while he tended to it. My question is, why, when there is a dedicated sound and tech booth in the back of the venue, would you not utilise this to then focus your attention on the performance? Because while the tricks were amazing, I feel there was definitely a need for a tighter structure and direction for the show.
At the beginning, the two performers are showing us oddities they have collected over the years, including a replica cast of the Elephant Man’s skull and antique tools used for lobotomies. However, these props are never brought back again or utilised in any way, so I wondered why they showed us, apart from filling in time. On occasion, this loose awkward structure made me feel like I was watching a street show rather than a piece being performed at a venue. Manx has no doubt plenty of random and unique experiences throughout his career, and it would have been great to have heard some of those stories and how they got him to where he is now. One time when he does this well is with regards to recounting his recent Guinness World Record achievement for the Fastest Human Backbend Walk over 20 metres, which he then proceeds to perform. And if you need a visual aid on what that looks like, think of the spider walk in The Exorcist.
Aerial Manx is a great performer who is very skillful in what he does and who clearly likes to push the boundaries of what the body is capable. In order to make Tempest in a Teacup a strong production as a whole, I feel it’s imperative that he offers some more powerful purpose or reason or narrative behind what we are seeing. With the wonderful creative possibilities of circus becoming more prominent in performances at Melbourne venues and festivals, it would seem there needs to be something more happening than watching someone swallow two neon tubes simultaneously, as impressive as that may be!
Tempest in a Teacup was performed at The Butterfly Club between 29 April and 8 May, 2016.
*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 11 May.