Melbourne Fringe 2016: NO FRILLS CABARET

All the talent and tension without the tinsel

By Joana Simmons

No Frills Cabaret is exactly as the title says. No marketing, no budget, no MC. It may have no frills but it is definitely full of extremely entertaining and skillful circus and comedy. It is an absolute joy from start to finish. Created and produced by Christopher Carlos and Matthew Casey and combining some of Australia’s best established and upcoming circus artists, this is one action-thrill-packed hour that proves how much talent there is on these fine shores.

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From the rowdy Rockstar opening, we are told we are in for a “cheap fun easy to watch highly skilled night of awesomeness” and the crowd whoops and cheers with excitement. Basically, each performer came on, nailed their act, and announced in their own candid and comedic way the next performer. The skill level and variety is jaw-dropping. Hula Hoops, foot-juggling, headstand-balancing, lira, contortion, trapeze, juggling and teeterboard: the list alone is exhaustive yet this energetic cast made it look so easy. The thing that knocked my socks off in this show is how each act had its own concept, well thought-out, clearly acted-out and amazingly executed. It helps us to connect to the tricks so much more when there’s a story behind it; like a fight between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, or a man who has been abducted and turned into a JuggleBot as an experiment.

Production wise, it is almost bang on. A boss soundtrack combined with simple and effective lighting puts this show on the top shelf. Although mostly performers weren’t mic’d, there was only one moment in the Jugglebot act where it was difficult to hear Jeff Young from where I was at the back. Special mention to the crew who made the scenes glide easily from one to the other, moving equipment on and offstage without it detracting from what else was going on. The costumes (obviously without frills but with many a sequin) tied everything together, being sexy where they needed to be without being cheap, and showing off the incredible physiques of the performers while adding to each character.

I want to highly commend all the artists for their authentic interactions with the audience, as this is one thing I find commonly lacking in circus. Each concept had clear characterisation, physicality and emotion, which is hard enough to do on its own let alone when you are balancing things on your feet or spinning through the air with your leg behind your head. Individual standouts were Malia’s babin’ badass opening Hula Hoop act, Chris Carlos’ head-balancing and Jobby and AJ’s teeterboard finale- (he did a move which is apparently called the Coca-cola; air time and applause levels were both high.)

Circus, like cabaret, is becoming more and more popular and sometimes runs the risk of being, dare I say it, showy, predictable and naff. This show is the complete opposite. There has been a lot of thought put into how to make us “wow” and cheer as much as we did, instead of relying on tricks alone. It is inspirational to see so many talented young people work so hard to put on such a slick show. For circus virgins to the most experienced viewers alike, this will get your heart racing and hands banging together. The season is limited, so say YES to No Frills.

No Frills Cabaret was performed from 16 – 18 Sep 8.30pm at The Melba Spiegletent for Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016