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Empire: A pared down pumped up Adults Only Cirque du Soleil
Staged in the atmospheric confines of a Spiegeltent, Empire is a pared-down pumped-up Adults Only Cirque du Slapstick, with a healthy dose of irreverence for its franchised French sister. As our hyperactive host tells it, "Ya know what? We don't have to have a story just because those Cirque du Soleil assholes do."
That statement pretty much set the tone for what was to come. The most gravity-defying mind-boggling collection of acts with a (very tenuous) link to the history of New York's nightlife, this extravaganza is the creation of a largely Australian creative team and an international cast of freaks of nature, starting with our very own freak of nature, Queensland-born contortionist Lucia Carbines as the Girl in a Bubble.
Her opening act demonstrated that a confined space is no barrier to spectacular performance: placing her in a plastic 'bubble' suspended above the heads of the audience meant that every seat in the house had a bird's eye view of the flame-haired bundle of limbs that was Miss A in a Bubble.
What followed was an hour and a half of frenetic slapstick interspersed with acts of superhuman concentration during which you could have heard a pin drop. Music was provided by a fabulous cabaret-style singer backed by a very scary guitarist, with an eclectic musical selection that gave a nod to both the US vaudeville 'storyline' (such as it was) and a very Australian sensibility. For this reviewer, 'Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps' will always be associated with that good old Aussie classic 'Strictly Ballroom', but was used to great effect in Empire in a Caveman number. Who woulda thought? That's showbiz, people!
Empire may be set on a small stage but this production has a huge heart. The intimate space of the Spiegeltent was no barrier to a cracking good show. The feats performed by this band of elite athletes was nothing short of breathtaking: a quick glance at the audience at moments of high suspense showed 700 faces in rapt attention.
Melbourne in March and April offers an embarrassment of entertainment in a feast of festivals over a variety of venues. Make sure Empire by Spiegelworld at the Crown Rooftop is on top of your list.