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Society cabaret review (Melba Spiegeltent, Melbourne)

The Melba Spiegeltent is a fitting venue for After Dark Theatre’s Society. It’s nestled in the old car park of what is now Circus Oz’s HQ in the depths of old Collingwood. It’s just a building away from the grind and noise of the Tote Hotel and the echoes of Collingwood Tech’s courses in boot making still hang in the air.

Society is an “adults only” circus/ theatre/ cabaret show designed to evoke the atmosphere of a night at the New Orleans Mardi Gras. It begins with a mini-showcase of performers for the night. Kara Ciezki, the show’s musical director, warms us up with her a Nyawleans blues/soul style song that’s Black Velvet in tone and timbre. Director Francesco Minniti is the MC. He enters in a louder than loud purple suit and soft, gold shoes. He shuffles and hustles the crowd in a Southern accent, channeling some Bourbon Street busker cajoling coins from the crowd.

He and Ciezki are mostly the acts in between the acts. Ciezki sings solo and also accompanies the acts. She works the audience well, teasing the men foolish enough to be seated up front. It’s funny, but if she’d come on to some women as well it would have been more in tune with the show’s ‘anything goes’ theme.

The circus acts are the show’s centrepiece. Mimi LeNoire is strong, sensual and smooth on the suspended ring, whether solo or partnered with Mathew Brown. Alyssa Moore jumps and flips with feline grace on the flexible bar supported by Brown and Tully Fedorowjtsch. Jacinta Rohan does a turn showing her freakish flexibility (I had to double check to see that there was not a second set of legs in there somewhere). Fedorowjtsch is a juggler and manipulator of various objects. He does it with style and humour, managing to splash us only a few drops as he throws saucers of water wildly over the stage. Brown shows off his lean strength as he balances on top of poles, from hanging straps and under other performers.

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The men in the show are not the focus, but at times are quite plainly used as set dressing with their cut physiques and skimpy briefs. The female leads are also sensually dressed, but the attention is as much on their feats as their look. Minniti is at the centre of the comedic climax and it’s pretty damn funny in that way that your drunken uncle can be when he decides to play the fool.

Each of the acts only last a minute or three. Well-paced and directed, there is almost no pause in the show’s 80 minutes. It is like being in one of the small cabaret venues in the old suburbs just outside the New Orleans’ French Quarter, where circus, burlesque and freak shows co-exist.

Society promises a certain amount of transgression, but while it’s a little suggestive, this is not a space in which “nothing is off limits”. It’s well-performed and very funny entertainment but I left feeling that they could have pushed the envelope just that bit more.

Society is at the Melba Spiegeltent, Collingwood until May 26

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