Review: Cirque Stratosphere

All the requirements of a spectacular

By Rachel Holkner

There’s a disconnect in seeing a circus in a static building, particularly one as large and revered as Hamer Hall. But this is not mere circus, it is a reframing of circus arts as event spectacular. Spectaculars themselves continue to grow in popularity as extravagant productions with lavish sets and costumes, and an all-senses assault of lighting and music become the go-to for a big family night out.

For all the requirements of a spectacular Cirque Stratosphere certainly holds up – all the elements are present – yet the disconnect is amplified as I found none of the elements speak to each other. The show is presented as the story of NASA’s race to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, however it seems as if each of the departments went off on their own without an overarching vision. Lights and music are perfect for a ’90s rave (complete with hovering UFO for DJ Hikuri Roots), staging as if preparing for TRON and costumes lifted straight out of The Jetsons.

While beautifully realised, it is the costumes which amplified the misogynistic times of the space race. Reliant on 1960s stereotypes of women, with added boob cones, the roles for the female performers were framed as office staff and passive observers. Women were further marginalised as the two male clowns calling audience members on stage chose men nine out of ten times. If the jokes being written consistently require a male participant, perhaps there’s a need to write some different jokes.

The use of archival audio, from educational films, interviews and missions recordings, was well-intentioned, but the poor quality nature of these tracks meant that much of it was lost under the dance beats and bass drops. But in the end it was the lack of narrative holding this production together which really made it fail to launch. I found transitions stilted, the acts isolated and choreography tired. The only moment of surprise and delight was thanks to an unexpectedly talented audience member brought up on stage, which unfortunately highlighted what was missing from this circus.

There is no doubting the skills of these performers. Each worked flawlessly and tirelessly to present a solid show. Cirque Stratosphere suffers from these artists standing alone and not being part of a troupe, which goes against the mission to the moon theme where all had to work together.

Cirque Stratosphere is showing at Hamer Hall until 11 January and then Sydney Opera House from January 14th.

Photography courtesy of Jordan Munns