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Riot cabaret review (Sydney Festival)

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If the Wooster Group’s The Town Hall Affair appeals (reviewed here), so will Emmet Kirwan’s spoken word – passionate and rapid fire monologues about teen pregnancy, loneliness, alienation and the need for socialist revolution. If the voice of the Beats can still be heard in his delivery, Kirwan also looks back to the Irish poets and then back across the Atlantic again to African-American rap. But Kirwan is just the opening salvo and the intermittent conscience of this Irish variety show, playing at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. This is the circus, and the circus is sexy these days, as one character remarks. And so Ronan Brady – a former Irish football star whose post-injury rehabilitation exercises led him to acrobatics, and then to the circus where he added a striptease to the routine.

They are joined by night’s mistress of the ring, Panti Bliss, who arrives on stage as if she is here to personally MC the after party to the marriage equality triumph. Fielding a call from Lyle Shelton, she swats him away (‘two tops don’t make a bottom’). Her monologues and audience interactions are ribald, and balanced by her heartfelt tale of a young boy who wanted to grow up to be Farrah Fuckin’ Fawcett. Her ‘love each other and be kind in this huge spinning world’ message serves as a softer coda after Kirwan’s sharper politics.

It’s an exhilarating 90 minutes, full of light and moments of dark illuminated by iPhone torches and hard hitting politics.

Throughout, performers keep reminding us of Emma Goldman’s warning that a revolution without dancing is not worth joining. The Lords of Strut, Famous Seamus and SeanTastic, pull us along on a tour through ’80s pop culture. Famous Seamus (Cian Kinsella) holds SeanTastic (Cormac Mohally) aloft as Morten Harket’s falsetto pours from the speakers: ‘I’lllll beeee gone…’. The crowd has fallen in love with a-ha’s Take on Me all over again.

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The acts keep coming, including the Irish dancing duo Deirdre Griffin and Philip Connaughton. Their heads are submerged in giant pink balls like an amniotic sack – this is a queer show, so they can represent whatever you want – boobs, balls or giant pimples that burst and become raggedy skirts in the act’s finale, if that appeals. The church is taken on – there’s a chaotic scene involving cling warp, Jesus and a very blasphemous Australian-summer scene of whipping by pool noodles. A four-person choir, meanwhile, sounds like it has descended from some sort of queer heaven and holds the disparate show together.

It’s an exhilarating 90 minutes, full of light and moments of dark illuminated by iPhone torches and hard hitting politics. But it builds to a coherent message: that in a world full of hating we must keep loving, and an almost Germaine Greer-esque command that in the face of a world that keeps fucking us over, we must never stop joyfully fucking. Even in the dark, there’s pockets full of glitter. You’ll walk out feeling like your heart has been taken out and replaced by mirrored disco ball pulsating to Annie Lennox’s voice soothing your troubled soul: ‘Sweet dreams are made of this.’

At Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent until January 28

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