Rock Bang (Circus Oz and Die Roten Punkte ) review (Malthouse, Melbourne)

Rock Bang, developed as part of Circus Oz’s 40th year, is a co-production with Otto and Astrid Rot (Daniel Tobias and Clare Bartholomew), the grunge-punk-wunderkinders and co-founders of the Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots).

If you haven’t come across the squabbling Rot siblings before, they’re sort of Hansel and Gretel meets Rocky Horror Show, but with more drugs. 

Or Struwwelpeter meets Eurovision, but with more bondage.

If you ever had Cautionary Tales for Children read to you, you’ll recognise them, just add electric guitars and drums. 

And the aforementioned drugs. 

And sex, cops and the Berlin Wall.

In fact, the show is a sort if rock’n’roll bio-pic – more rock than rolling actually (it’s billed as a ‘circus rock opera’) – that details Astrid and Otto’s rise to superstardom with their hit song Ich bin nicht ein roboter (I am not a robot) I am a lion. 

So: Once Upon A Time….

When Astrid turns 12, she and Otto are taken to the zoo by their parents who, sadly, are eaten by a lion. That’s the story according to Otto. Astrid says that they were run over by a train when the driver bent down to pick up a sandwich and squashed them to a bloody mangled pulp. 

Either way, the kids are scarred.

There’s an attempted adoption by a creepy aunt and uncle but the children escape. Running away through the forest, straight into mid-’80s counter-culture Berlin. 

And at some point, Astrid burns a house down. And they are inspired by Bowie’s concert near the Wall. And for sure they pee on that wall, as so many did. And Astrid parties. A lot. And spends time in rehab. 

And Otto stays at home with his toy Lion. And makes Astrid’s favourite sandwich of peanut-butter, jam and bacon except he uses faken because he is vegan (possibly.)

And then Astrid finds some instruments by the side of the road and they form the band… and now, somehow, they’ve got stuck in a packing crate (the basis of Anna Tregloan’s set) belonging to Circus Oz and have ended up here, in Oz. Which makes total fairytale sense.

There are some fine sequences – at one point Astrid has six body-doubles whose long black hair and spangly red frocks (Laurel Frank’s costume designs are suitably outrageous) are the only points of similarity they bear to her. 

There’s a bakery sequence – a source of food for Otto and Astrid (living at the time in a squat) and you don’t begrudge them any of it when you’ve seen how much has been picked up off the floor – that’s pretty cute. The songs are pumping enough (Ich bin night ein roboter is fabulously awful and Otto’s Rocket Man unexpectedly charming, both complemented by Richard Vabre’s lighting design) to keep your toes tapping.

The performance I saw played to a number of children well under the (recommended) age of 13 plus. Given the amount of swearing, the mentions of incest and illustrations of orgy, they were difficult to forget. There were also a fair few seniors. 

For the youngsters, the show may have been ‘educational’ if they understood what all that writhing was about (ushers warned parents of impending ‘rude bits’ at interval). For the oldsters too, possibly, or just nostalgic.

Either way, no-one fell asleep. Though my totally legal, over-the-age-of-consent, lived-in-Deutschland for a couple of months niece (specially sourced for the occasion), thought the swearing would have been funnier in German. And then we thought that random dumb German words would be funnier again.

Whether it was the age of the audience or the fact that the cast were coming off an opening night high into a 3 pm matinee (respect), the first section of the show was heavy going. 

The slightly awkward mash-up of the Rot siblings ‘story’ and a circus performance strains a bit. One element is effectively two-hander stand-up, needing some degree of physical intimacy with the audience; the other is the ‘acts’ of the Circus Oz performers. These include the exquisite woman-in-gold aerialist (Alyssa Moore) spinning above in a hoop and the fabulous rope work of Rockie Stone swinging high in the rig though they feel as if they demand a larger playing space of the Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse,

The circus elements are not quite integrated into the Rot story enough, but when they are, the show works beautifully.

On this showing, Rock Bang needs a bit more dramaturgical rigour, a bit more tightening of the whole to be as fabulous as it should be.

Until November 25

Photo by Mark Turner


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