News & Reviews

Melbourne - Crikey; Shut up and tumble: Circus Oz should tone down the politics

20th June 2014

I have always been a fan of the circus. When I was a child in New York my family and I would go to see the Big Apple Circus every year on Thanksgiving Day, laughing, cheering and gasping in white-knuckled awe while our turkey cooked at home. I was excited to recapture that experience (though without the turkey) at Circus Oz’s “But Wait … There’s More” at the big top at Birrarung Marr. I expected skilful circus artists at the top of their game performing awe-inspiring acts. I did not expect a politics lecture.

Circus Oz seems to be overpoweringly leftist, with speeches, songs, costuming and signs throughout pushing a distinctive barrow. The theme of the show was the evils of capitalism, with performers dressed as bar codes and an uber-capitalist reality show judge beating down the arts in the name of profit. There were references to Australia’s asylum seeker policy, indigenous recognition and even a gag about the recent budget. I thought it overwhelming – but I’m told by an Australian friend that it was pretty light-on as far as Circus Oz’s politics go, and that past shows have been even preachier.

The Melbourne audience, most of whom seemed to be long-time fans of the company, loved the show and laughed at all the jokes. But would they have cheered so much if it had been a right-wing performance? The arts is a haven for lefties, but I imagine it would have been a very different response if the performers were not broadcasting views they already agreed with.

Imagine: instead of the theme of capitalism, the theme could have been dole bludgers. The opening act: a queue to pick up disability support pension cheques. After they get their money, the performers could turn cartwheels and perform death-defying feats, proving they were not disabled after all and were rorting the system. Would we lefties have loved the circus so much then?

At one point last night ringmaster (ringmistress?) Candy Bowers put on a blond wig to mock xenophobic, white bogans. She spouted xenophobic lines (“I love Australia. So much space … Don’t let anyone in!”) and cooed: “I love Kylie” … “I love really funny comedians like Chris Lilley”. But what if she had instead donned a hijab and complained about the decadent West and lack of Muslim teachings in our schools? Would that have drawn laughs and applause? The audience would be outraged – and rightly so – so why is it OK when the performers are pushing your own particular barrow?

I have no complaint with the feats and acts themselves – Circus Oz’s performers are one helluva talented bunch, and they bring joy and panache to their show. But let’s stop being serious and start clowning around.

Cassidy Knowlton

Melbourne - Crikey; Shut up and tumble: Circus Oz should tone down the politics -