Sunday 7 January 2024

Circus 1903 review

As you take your seat and look at the stage of Circus 1903, it really feels like you have been transported back 120 years ago to a big top circus. World-class talent undertake breathtaking acrobatics and routines that show what can be achieved if you put your mind to it. An appearance by an African elephant and her baby calf further heightens the excitement felt over a century ago when circuses would travel into small towns offering locals opportunities to witness extraordinary artists and exotic animals, and for a limited season, it is Melbourne's turn to experience this.

Every act is a highlight and while favourites among the audience varies, there's no denying the absolute skill possessed by the Icarian Games performers Mohammed Ibrahim and Hamza Seid, in a stunning routine of foot juggling a human body. At one point, 23 consecutive rotations are completed one after the other and watching the strength and flexibility in both these performers is simply jaw dropping. Mekdes Kebede's contortionist act is utterly engrossing as she manipulates her body into positions that should not be feasible, and receives plenty of gasps from the crowd.

Yoann Benhamou and Emeline Goavec present a duo-trapeze act, using a single trapeze to deliver a beautifully choreographed piece. Oskar Norin, Karl Wiberg and Anton Persson use a teeterboard that has them soaring to spectacular heights and Yani Stoyanov and Valeri Tsvetkov show us exactly why they are called the strongmen of this circus. Elena Suarez-Pariente entrances us with her hair-raising hair-hanging aerial artisty, David Schnabel stops us in our tracks with an acrobatic bicycle act and Francois Borie shows off his juggling prowess with incredible speeds and dexterity.

Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade (David Williamson) keeps everything and everyone under control, including various children who are eager to get on stage and be part of the circus. He has a wonderful knack of making sure they enjoy themselves and remember this special moment while also cracking jokes in front of them that are directed to the adults in the theatre.

But it’s the majestic elephants Queenie and her calf Peanut, that win over the audience, although for Peanut you may want to add cheeky to the mix. These life-size elephant puppets created by Significant Object are a sight to be seen. The puppets are designed as realistically as possible with regards to movement, temperament and appearance. With three puppeteers inside Queenie and the one inside Peanut barely visible, it's easy to give over to your imagination and perceive these animals as living, breathing creatures.

The entire cast and crew, including costumer designer Angela Aaron, have worked tremendously well to bring the magic of 1903 to Arts Centre Melbourne. While there is a hiccup with the final act, which ends abruptly and doesn't carry the wow factor that all the preceding acts have, Circus 1903 is an extremely enjoyable night out and you can't help but take home some of that dreamlike energy from the circus, where anything is possible.

Show Details

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Rd, Southbank

Season: until 14 January | Tue/Thurs/Fri 7.30pm, Wed/Sat 2pm and 7.30pm, Sun 1pm and 6.30pm
Duration: 130 minutes, including a 20 minute interval

Tickets: $79 - $119 Full | $69 - $109 Concession
Bookings: Arts Centre Melbourne

Image credit:
Jason Lau and Arts Centre Melbourne 2024

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