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Review: Circus Oz reinforces its reputation as a quadruple threat with 'Rock Bang'

★★★

Image source: 
Mark Turner

Conceived in Melbourne in 1978 as an anarchic, human-only circus troupe devoted to diversity, social justice and pushing the circus envelope, Circus Oz has been rock’n’roll from the outset. Accordingly, its collaboration with comedy, art-rock duo Die Roten Punkte is a choice pairing.

No small undertaking, Rock Bang is hailed as a rock opera following the trials and tribulations of German siblings Astrid and Otto, from their orphaned youth (their parents were either hit by a train or eaten by a lion) through to touring with Circus Oz. Styled as a drummer and guitar à la Jack and Meg White (replete with the suggestion of incest), Die Roten Punkte weave their brand of rock mayhem, spanning everything from krautrock through to Saints-inspired punk, with Circus Oz’s acrobatic antics. 

Realistically, “rock opera” is too grand a term for the undertaking – it’s more cabaret than Tommy. However, the scene where Otto finds himself awake alone at night in the woods was a Wim Wenders/Weimar-Republic dream, and the golden angel suspended on the aerial hoop watching over him was a show-stopper. 

It’s worth noting that en route to Australia via Berlin, Otto and Astrid’s adventures span everything from sex parties to rehab, so anyone thinking this show is appropriate fare for kids is in for a shock.     

Rock Bang also demonstrates, yet again, the versatility of the Circus Oz ensemble – in this show the troupe are quadruple threats (on top of world-class circus skills they can dance, sing and play instruments).   

The show also brings home Circus Oz’s commitment to diversity and social justice – for a start, kicking off proceedings with a heartfelt, fascinating and educational Welcome to Country. To close the circle, we’re reminded that Circus Oz places a premium on compassion and we’re urged to spill our pockets on the way out with funds going to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.   

Highlight: The pizza shop scene was a corker. Astrid takes on a job in a trattoria to keep the pair financially afloat, and juggling gets a refresh with balls of dough and flour trails whizzing across the stage. 

Lowlight: Die Roten Punkte are side-sidesplittingly funny and Circus Oz is all class, so their pairing seemed like a match made in heaven. However, for some reason, the show just didn’t quite hit the heights to which audiences are accustomed of either. Amongst other things, you couldn’t make out what Astrid was singing a lot of the time and jokes bombed. Hopefully though, given how awesome Die Roten Punkte and Circus Oz are ordinarily, maybe it was just a matter of gala-night nerves.  

Crowd favourite: Otto being told by the coppers to play another Smiths' album while he waited for his sister’s return, and later his song devoted to his dream “straight-edged girl” – a sober, Ramones-loving vegan who votes Green.

Catch Circus Oz: Rock Bang from Thursday November 15 until Sunday November 25 at the Malthouse Theatre, Southbank. Tickets via the venue website.