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Carabosse Fire Garden - review

Carabosse Fire Garden - review

The penguin aeronaut was my favourite thing. Beak stretched out before it, legs stretched out behind, it flew in a great slow loop above a ceaselessly sputtering flame standing in a torrent of falling water. The water streamed down onto the flame and crackled and hissed, and the flame just kept on burning, and the penguin… flew… relentlessly… on. It wore goggles. (It was a steampunk penguin.) Kids reached up their hands and tried to touch it; none of them were quite tall enough.

It took five minutes, maybe, for the penguin to make a full loop. I watched it go around a couple of times. When I’d been standing there for a while, two of the quiet people in mysterious hats came up. These are the Carabosse Fire Garden attendents; they speak French and mostly ignore anyone who doesn’t, although if you do something obviously stupid, like stick your arm through one of the gaps in a huge sphere of flame so your friend can take a picture, they will quietly walk over and have a word. (“M’sieur, please, there is no need to be a dick”).

The attendents waved the penguin-watchers back a little, attached a translucent bladder half-full of some liquid or other to a long iron pole, lifted it up, and with some difficulty managed to transfer the bladder to a little hook at the apex of the penguin’s flight path. A murmur went through the crowd. We all saw the implication. Minutes passed. The penguin flex inexorably on. It neared the bladder. We all leaned in and up. Beak pierced bladder. Water exploded and fell and hit a hot-plate directly below the penguin, and steam billowed up in clouds, and the penguin flew on through the steam.

It was the best thing ever.

The strange steampunk sculpture-toys are scattered more or less randomly around the large tract of the Domain which has been closed off to create the Fire Garden. There are not terribly many of them, meaning that when you come across one, it feels like a discovery. Most of the time you spend wandering past large-scale fire arrangements – flaming baskets arranged in patterns through the trees, a long trench of glowing coals, the afore-mentioned spheres of flame, which are just huge interlocking iron rings with fire baskets suspended from them, and yet are curiously mesmerising.

None of this is oh-my-god spectacular. The quality of the experience is ethereal and otherly: spend time outside time, looking at strange patterns of fire. The crowds, inevitably, detract from this a little – there’s nothing like being surrounded by five hundred people all trying to take the same selfie to make you feel embedded in our singular and specific present moment. But the crowds also make the strangeness a communal thing, like a shared dream.

CARABOSSE FIRE GARDEN, Auckland Domain opposite Band Rotunda, from 830pm, March 4 – 6.

Theatre