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Ithaca - review

Nov 30, 2015 Theatre

One of the things that happens on a really good night at the theatre is that the whole audience responds as one – sighing together when it’s poignant, laughing together when it’s absurd, or, as is the case with Dust Palace’s new show Ithaca, sharing an urgent desire to go straight home afterwards and have bust-the-bedsprings sex.

“Isn’t that what theatre’s for?” someone suggested to me. Which, not always but definitely sometimes, might as well be true.

This is Homer’s story of Odysseus, trying to get home to his wife Penelope after the Trojan War but being diverted by Sirens and various other seducers. Set in space, where they don’t wear many clothes. As told by a bunch of acrobats. It’s sex on silks, basically. You can imagine.

Actually, you may not be able to imagine, because the bodies of this crew are more ripped than should be possible and some of their acts also seem barely plausible, especially in the small space of Q Loft. Swinging people around like skipping ropes and sacks of potatoes; rapidly circling big-hoop work; all sorts of action on those silks. Right there, just metres from your face.

If you’ve seen any of the touring circus cabaret shows we’ve had in town of late, you’ll know there are usually set routines. See them once, thrilling. See everyone doing them, not so much. Ithaca, yay, dispenses with nearly all the usual stuff. That’s exciting in itself.

It’s a terrific Christmas show, by which I mean that while all those fabulous flights of physical fancy are running their course, you sit at cabaret-style tables, they serve you little platters of canapes and you can order from the bar. Perfect for a group of friends or workmates. For the large group of young women from a dance studio on Waiheke who were there the night I went, celebrating their year, it was beyond wonderful.

It’s not beyond wonderful in every respect. The storytelling is overly simple (with the Odyssey, you really need to find a way to get past “they’re on a journey and shit happens”) and yet also confusing (you might not know who’s who unless you know your Homer). Mike Edward, as Odysseus, was a very fine acrobat but his shoulder is busted so he’s been reduced to acting, and that’s his lesser strength, so to speak. And much of the space stuff is just a bit silly.

The music includes songs by everyone from Taylor Swift to Johnny Cash, all put through the electronically charged imaginations of Matthias Jordan and Jol Mulholland, and sometimes it’s really terrific, but it’s never really poignant or pulsating, despite the story and the risks the acrobats are taking.

As for the overall concept, it hasn’t been fully worked out so it’s a little incoherent. When Edward sings “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” at the show’s climax, it feels like a vanity number that should not have survived the development process of the show.

And the acrobatics are too dangerous. They’ve had injuries, and that’s really not the inevitable price any performers should have to pay for our entertainment.

Still, the problem with injuries aside, none of this gets in the way of what really is beyond wonderful about Ithaca: the creatively conceived, super-skilled and super-super-seductive performances of circus acrobats Rochelle Mangan, Eve Gordon, Edward Clendon, Heath Jones, Carlin Brown and Zach Washer. The right word for what they do is: awesome.

Ithaca, Q Theatre until December 11.


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