There are many theories as to when and how the zombie apocalypse will occur, with the latest one rumoured to take place during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Presented by Head First Acrobats, Elixir follows three blundering scientists who unwittingly unleash the zombie apocalypse when they attempt to create the elixir of life. And it just so happens that these scientists are highly skilled acrobatic and circus performers who must put their brains and their bodies into overdrive in order to prevent the end of the world.
Performed by Thomas Gorham, Callan Harris (both founding members of Head First Acrobats) and Harley Timmerman, Elixir premieres in Melbourne after a sold out and award winning tour in the United Kingdom, including Best Cabaret at the 2015 Brighton Fringe Festival. Originally performed as part of Gorham’s graduation showcase piece at NICA, the full version of Elixir has never played in Melbourne. While the trio are eager to bring the undead back to Melbourne, the journey with this production has been an experience that Gorham could never have imagined. "I had absolutely no idea that this would happen," he says. "I just wanted to create a character piece that was different and exciting. I had no idea a showcase zombie themed circus act would lead to touring around the world and being received the way it has."
While Gorham has been making a name for himself as a circus performer, his beginnings in the performing arts were in dance. "Breakdancing was my original physical practice, and as I trained for breakdancing and other forms of acrobatics I found circus," he says. In the seven years since graduating from NICA, Gorham's passion for circus continues to grows stronger each day, mainly due to the community the art form fosters. "It's the wonderful community and lifestyle that keeps me going in the circus. You could not find more interesting and lovely friends that those you meet in circus."
There have been instances where circus loosely explores a theme or specific issue but Elixir is a rare example of circus aiming to construct a strong narrative to draw in audiences. It's a task that was met with challenges that the company has worked hard at overcoming. "With Elixir, the tricks definitely came first with the story and themes following on because it's not really easy to tell a story with circus," Gorham tells me. "Mainly because circus is such a spectacle based art form, so there is no why. Why do a backflip? Why do a handstand? We do them because they are cool, challenging and great to look at. Elixir finds a bunch of different reasons for doing circus skills, and combines them in a comic setting."
Audiences constantly marvel at the acrobatic feats presented in circus as bodies are pushed to their limits. Even though this is usually done with a smile and cheeky banter, what the audience are seeing is extremely high risk acts that require a lot of training and communication between the performers. "Circus is incredibly dangerous. I have had to undergo two knee reconstructions from performing," Gorham recalls*. "We rehearse every day for hours to make what we do look easy. Callan is one of only two people in Australia who is able to perform a handstand on a free-standing ladder and it is absolutely amazing to see him execute this." And if you want to witness this, then it's best to go buy your tickets before you turn into a zombie feast.
*Since speaking with me, Thomas has injured his ACL and meniscus and will not be performing in this season of Elixir. His replacement will be announced shortly.
1. Comedy is disrupting the rhythm of expectation.
2. If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?
Baby spinach (too literal?)
3. Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?
4. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?
I would last forever as the king of the zombies. Aeons after the final human draws its last breath.
5. I will stay sane during MICF by seeing all the shows I can!
Venue: Spiegeltent at Art Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd. Southbank
Season: 29 March - 20 April / Fri-Sat 10pm
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $39 Full | $35 Conc
Bookings: MICF website