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Circus Oz Model Citizens review (Prince Alfred Square, Sydney)

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The opening scenes of Circus Oz’s Model Citizens poke fun at suburban conformity. The cast dresses in a uniform hospital blue colour, three members return as ballet-dancing sheep, and it wraps up with a satirical song by Freyja Edney about buying into organic food and tolerating diversity but not wanting it in ‘my backyard’. Entering the scene early on is the pink haired, tattooed non-conformist Mitch Jones, who is stripped of his colourful outfit by the rest of the cast and dragged into the blue team, where the life of a citizen means being tied in literal and metaphorical knots and straight jackets.

The cast play childlike adults, leaping from and playing with giant domestic objects full of sinister danger – irons, matchboxes, knives and scissors. This act belongs to Jones, with beautiful set pieces by Annalise Moore and Jarred Dewey, who play a gorgeous alpha couple who dance and loop around each other on a pair of giant steaming irons. The first act’s climax comes from Jones, who is forced by Jake Silvestro to build a stack of giant credit cards – a visual play on the endless credit chain that holds some individual’s lives together. But when the cards come tumbling down, it equally reminded me of the credit crisis that led to the housing collapse in the US.

Musician Jeremy Hopkins steps out from behind the screen at the back of the stage to play a suburban dad at the barbecue, singing a very funny ode (set to the turn of Waltzing Matilda) to his Weber. He pats himself on the back for cooking once a week and asks who’s going to “come a negative gearing with me”. It’s all visually clever and witty, but playing in multicultural and suburban Parramatta, I wondered about the choice of satirical target. Wouldn’t the satire have had more bite if it was turned on the corporate behemoths or ethically drained political class? Or even on the politically right-on cultural class that Circus Oz comes from? That might be walking a real tightrope.

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During the second act lights are turned down, as is the symbolism, and the pure circus comes out. All the performers are extraordinary but, as seems appropriate in the present moment, it is the women who really shine, individually and collectively. Tara Silcock’s routine in a Martini glass, spent mostly on her back as her feet spin and twirl umbrellas, is a highlight. She beams charismatically throughout the show and acts genuinely and endearingly surprised with herself as she acknowledges the audience at the end of this scene.

The women are also responsible for the night’s most impressive show of strength. In a prop-less scene, the five female cast members elegantly walk over and down each other’s heads and shoulders and hands; the act ends with Edney singlehandedly suspending the four other cast members.

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A good hula hoop routine never fails to awe, and it is also Edney’s turn holding up ten or so silver bangles that is hard to forget and one of the biggest crowd pleasers. Other scenes that aren’t easily forgotten are Alexander Weibel Weibel beautifully playing the violin while his feet play with more strings below and he walks between loose tightropes. His scene ends when he puts down the violin, turns into a human star and does 360 degree turns on the ropes.

In the show’s final scene the greasy competitive corporate ladder has been turned horizontal and become co-operative, and the entire cast works effortlessly together to swing and move each other through the steps in a heart-in-throat scene. When the cast and crew come out for a bow, it’s astonishing to discover that the show’s beautiful score has been provided by just the musical director Ania Reynolds and Hopkins, with intermittent support from Weibel Weibel. In a show that rejects spreading conformity and the mass-produced, it’s a demonstration of the big things can be achieved by a small team working closely together.

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At the Circus Oz Big Top, Prince Alfred Square Parramatta until 28 January

Photos: Jamie Williams

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