A Christmas Carol

Belvoir St Theatre, November 12

Ivan Donato, Ursula Yovich, Peter Carroll, Miranda Tapsell and Robert Menzies. Photo: Brett Boardman

Ivan Donato, Ursula Yovich, Peter Carroll, Miranda Tapsell and Robert Menzies. Photo: Brett Boardman

The magic begins as soon as you enter the theatre to find the seats dusted with (paper) snow. All over the theatre young and old excitedly lark around with it, dumping it on each other’s heads and tossing snowballs.

It’s the perfect start to Belvoir’s A Christmas Carol: a production so delightful and touching it would melt the hardest heart.

The costuming is contemporary (Mel Page) but the adaptation by director Anne-Louise Sarks and Benedict Hardie is a faithful telling of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale.

In this materialistic society of ours, the story of the miserly Scrooge resonates as powerfully as ever. Visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, followed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, Scrooge learns to open his heart (and wallet).

The messages that although you can’t change your past, it’s never too late to change your ways, and that it’s more rewarding to give than to receive, are as beautiful and timely as ever.

The Belvoir stage has rarely looked larger than it does with Michael Hankin’s steeply raked black set. It’s a deceptively simple design with trap doors and a platform that rises and falls, brought to vivid life by Benjamin Cisterne’s dynamic lighting.

Steve Rodgers. Photo: Brett Boardman

Steve Rodgers. Photo: Brett Boardman

Sarks’ production doesn’t avoid the dark corners of the story but her production twinkles with joy and playfulness along with showers of snow and glitter, a human Christmas tree, and carol singers in wonderfully naff, knitted Christmas jumpers (think Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary).

Robert Menzies is perfect as the mean-spirited, grouchy Scrooge, who starts the evening growling “Bah, humbug!” to any mention of Christmas and gradually thaws until he is gamboling in the snow making angel wings.

The other seven actors take on a number of roles each and work together as a tight ensemble. Steve Rodgers brings a beatific smile and deep humanity to the role of Bob Cratchitt, matched by Ursula Yovich as his kind-hearted but tougher, spirited wife. Together they are incredibly touching.

Miranda Tapsell. Photo: Brett Boardman

Miranda Tapsell. Photo: Brett Boardman

Miranda Tapsell’s radiantly glowing face could light the darkest night as Tiny Tim. Wearing a gorgeous confection-of-a-costume made from gold tinsel, Kate Box brings a deliciously mischievous exuberance to the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ivan Donato is a more solemn presence as the Ghost of Christmas Past in a shiny suit, Peter Carroll is hilariously, maniacally unhinged as Jacob Marley, while Eden Falk is decency and kindness personified as Scrooge’s nephew.

Robert Menzies, Ursula Yovich, Steve Rodgers, Peter Carroll, Kate Box. Photo: Brett Boardman

Robert Menzies, Ursula Yovich, Steve Rodgers, Peter Carroll, Kate Box. Photo: Brett Boardman

With music by Stefan Gregory and movement by Scott Witt, the heartwarming, family-friendly production (which runs 75 minutes) moves you to laughter and tears, sending you home filled with the spirit of Christmas.

In fact, I felt so uplifted that the next morning I booked tickets to take my family to see it just before Christmas. A real gift of a show.

A Christmas Carol is at Belvoir St Theatre until December 24. Bookings: www.belvoir.com.au or 9699 3444

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on November 23

The Way Things Work

Bondi Pavilion, November 11

Ashley Lyons and nicholas Papademetriou. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

Ashley Lyons and nicholas Papademetriou. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

For his final production as artistic director of Rock Surfers Theatre Company, Leland Kean is directing a new Australian play by Aidan Fennessy called The Way Things Work, which won the inaugural Rock Surfers/Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ) Playwriting Commission.

A dark satire about corruption in NSW, from the highest level down to the criminal underbelly, Fennessy won’t have needed to look far for inspiration with the newspapers full of corruption allegations on both sides of NSW politics and elsewhere in the private sector.

Investigative journalist Kate McClymont was a guest on opening night and in a short speech afterwards confirmed that the fiction on stage wasn’t that far removed from reality.

The Way Things Work unfolds in three sections with two actors playing three sets of characters.

The play opens with Minister Barlow (Nicholas Papademetriou) feeling the heat. The Minister (who surname has lent itself to umpteen scathing headlines) has overseen the construction of a multi-million dollar East-West road tunnel, funded by a public-private partnership. He has brought it in on time and on budget. The trouble is, it’s already beginning to crumble because it was built using ordinary concrete not the required “special concrete” and will eventually cost taxpayers vastly more to repair than it did to build.

The project is now the subject of a Royal Commission and the Minister is keen that certain behind-the-scenes deals are not revealed. He calls his departmental secretary (Ashley Lyons), a senior public servant, in for a meeting and puts pressure on him to “forget” a certain name.

In the second section, we meet the two Greek-Australian brothers whose company supplied the concrete and who are engaged in a power struggle of their own as their company is about to be bought out by a major media conglomerate.

The third section features a prison warden (Papademetriou) and a prisoner (Lyons) who have forged a close relationship over many years. The warden has just enlisted the prisoner as a hit man to prevent another of the inmates testifying at the commission, but there is more bubbling away beneath the surface.

Kean, who designed the set as well as directing, stages the play in a concrete box, which changes under Luiz Pampolha’s noir-ish lighting but which lends the piece a consistently tangible feeling of brutality, ruthlessness and claustrophobia, heightened by Jed Silver’s sound.

On opening night Papademetriou rather overplayed the Minister so that the character verged on the cartoonish, undercutting any genuine sense of reality. Some of the dialogue he was given also stretched credibility a little.

But Papademetriou settled down in the next two scenes with two far more potent, believable characterisations and as the play progressed the tension built nicely.

Lyons gives a chameleon-like performance, morphing convincingly from the anxious public servant determined not to compromise his integrity, to the cocky, blinged-up brother, to the prisoner whose sense of betrayal is surprisingly touching.

Running a tight 100-minutes, Kean keeps the action taut, driven by a macho energy. After a somewhat shaky start, The Way Things Work becomes a darkly funny, entertaining play that will certainly resonate with Sydneysiders.

The Way Things Work plays at Bondi Pavilion until November 29. Bookings: www.rocksurfers.org or 1300 241 167

Switzerland

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, November 7

Sarah Peirse and Eamon Farren. Photo: Brett Boardman

Sarah Peirse and Eamon Farren. Photo: Brett Boardman

Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play Switzerland is a gripping psychological thriller about renowned crime writer Patricia Highsmith that creeps up on you slowly and then has you on the edge of your seat.

Highsmith’s novels include The Talented Mr Ripley, one of several she wrote about the psychopathic, sexually ambiguous Tom Ripley, and Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock adapted for the screen.

Born in Texas, but bitter about her lack of serious recognition in her homeland as opposed to Europe where she was feted for her literary skill and psychological insight, she lived her last years in Switzerland, land of neutrality, secret bank accounts, picturesque mountain chalets and cuckoo clocks.

Widely regarded as a tough cookie, the eccentric, tight-fisted, hard-drinking, chain-smoking Highsmith (who was bisexual but more drawn to women) was considered misogynistic and cruel, even by her friends. She loved guns and cats and had a strange thing about snails. But Murray-Smith seamlessly weaves into the dialogue pretty much all that you need to know about her.

Murray-Smith’s play was commissioned by Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse – but fortuitously for Sydney audiences they agreed to Sydney Theatre Company staging the world premiere.

Set in the early 1990s, the cleverly constructed, tense drama finds Highsmith (Sarah Peirse) living with cancer towards the end of her life in Switzerland.

A young man called Edward Ridgeway (Eamon Farren) arrives from her New York publisher bearing jars of peanut butter (the wrong brand) and cans of soup.

Slightly nerdy and understandably nervous given the incident with the knife that befell the publisher’s previous emissary, Edward’s mission is to try to convince her to sign a deal to write one final Ripley novel.

Highsmith lacerates him with withering, caustic wit, delivered by Peirse with savagely funny brutality. But Edward – who is passionate about Highsmith’s oeuvre – holds his own (even if he can’t pronounce oeuvre) and things start to shift into a game of cat and mouse where it’s not clear who’s the cat.

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s detailed, realistic set (based apparently on Highsmith’s final Swiss home) – with large fireplace, leather chairs, desk with typewriter, framed weaponry, a portrait of Highsmith, thick windows and spiral staircase leading upstairs – makes a virtue of the awkward, wide stage and works superbly in a way you wouldn’t expect for an intimate two-hander.

Nick Schlieper lights it so that it becomes a place of shifting light and shadows, and Steve Francis’s slightly creepy music heightens the growing tension.

Scott-Mitchell’s costuming is also excellent with loose-fitting jeans and mannish socks and shoes for Peirse, and gradually changing outfits for Farren that reflect his character’s evolution.

Sarah Goodes directs an immaculately paced production, drawing superb performances from the two actors, who take you with them through every tiny emotional twist and turn.

Sarah Pierse. Photo: Brett Boardman

Sarah Pierse. Photo: Brett Boardman

The way Peirse reveals sudden flashes of vulnerability, pleasure or admiration beneath the Teflon-tough, gruff exterior is done with a flawless subtlety. She totally inhabits the role. Edward’s transformation is brilliantly judged in an equally subtle performance by Farren.

Murray-Smith celebrates and emulates Highsmith’s writing, while giving us an insight into her fascination with violence and the dark side of human nature. At the same time, she explores a range of ideas including Highsmith’s relationship with her imagination and characters all the while playing intriguing mind games with us. The play is often laugh-out-loud funny too.

As for how the song Happy Talk from the musical South Pacific fits into all this – well, you’ll just have to go and see, but it’s an inspired theatrical moment.

Running 100 minutes without interval, Switzerland is a thrilling piece of writing given a superb production by STC. In some of Murray-Smith’s previous plays you feel her putting words into the mouths of the characters to serve the debate and themes she is discussing. Here the dialogue feels utterly truthful, emerging organically from the mouths of the characters. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s her very best play to date. Highly recommended.

Switzerland plays at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until December 20. Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or 9250 1777

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on November 16

Daylight Saving

Eternity Playhouse, November 4

Rachel Gordon and Ian Stenlake. Photo: Helen White

Rachel Gordon and Ian Stenlake. Photo: Helen White

When Nick Enright wrote his 1989 rom-com Daylight Saving, it was a last-ditch effort. Had it not been a success, he had threatened to turn his back on playwriting.

But the play, which premiered at the Ensemble Theatre, was a big hit. Enright went on to a stellar career (cut sadly short when he died from melanoma in 2003) with writing credits including Cloudstreet, The Boy From Oz and the film Lorenzo’s Oil. He also wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Miracle City, currently enjoying a brilliant revival at the Hayes Theatre Co.

Darlinghurst Theatre Company is now staging Daylight Saving (with support form the Enright Family). It’s been lovingly directed by Adam Cook, who has chosen to keep it in its original 1980s time period, but the play itself feels rather dated and lightweight. The humour doesn’t zing in quite the same way that it did back in 1989 (the biggest laugh of the night is a sight gag: a huge, brick-like mobile phone) and its themes of loneliness in marriage, the passing of time and seizing the day don’t have quite the same traction – perhaps because we’ve heard them discussed so often.

Well constructed and elegantly written, the play is stylistically not dissimilar to Alan Ayckbourn or David Williamson. There are some deft, very funny one-liners that the cast deliver with consummate timing,  but the laughs are slow to build and rather sporadic.

Felicity (Rachel Gordon) is a successful restaurateur on Sydney’s northern beaches. She lives in a gorgeous house overlooking Pittwater and would seem to have it all. However, her husband Tom (Christopher Stollery), who manages a top-ranking but temperamental young tennis player Jason Strutt (Jacob Warner), devotes so much time to work that she is feeling increasingly lonely and under-valued.

This time, Tom has forgotten their wedding anniversary as he heads off overseas yet again. So when her old flame Joshua Makepeace (Ian Stenlake), to whom she lost her virginity in America as a student, appears out of the blue Felicity contemplates a romantic night. Somehow the fact that it’s the night that the clocks go back, gifting them an extra hour together, makes it seem even more special.

But plans for a candlelit lobster dinner go awry with a procession of visitors interrupting the evening.

Hugh O’Connor has designed a bright, gleaming set that captures the feel of a comfortable, advantageously positioned waterside home, beautifully lit by Gavan Swift, and his costumes have 80s elements without feeling like a parody.

Helen Dallimore, Ian Stenlake, Belinda Giblin, Rachel Gordon and Christopher Stollery. Photo: Helen White

Helen Dallimore, Ian Stenlake, Belinda Giblin, Rachel Gordon and Christopher Stollery. Photo: Helen White

Cook has gathered a strong cast, with the women in particularly fine form. As Felicity, Gordon gives a performance that feels effortlessly natural and real, her disappointment lying just beneath the surface. Belinda Giblin is absolutely on the money as Felicity’s well-meaning but interfering mother: a North Shore widow with fake tan who arrives like a whirlwind, dispensing advice, inedible cookies and deliciously dry witticisms, delivered to perfection.

Helen Dallimore is also extremely funny as Felicity’s rather boorish next-door neighbour Stephanie, whose boyfriend has given her up for Lent and who is so wrapped up in her own indignation she is oblivious to what’s going on around her.

Stenlake offers the kind of winning charm that Stollery’s grouchy Tom lacks, while Warner plays Jason’s bratishness to the hilt.

Cook has found as much humanity in it as he can, but at the end of the day it all feels rather slight: a play that hasn’t quite stood the test of time but one that is still gently amusing.

Daylight Saving runs at the Eternity Playhouse until November 30. Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or 02 8356 9987

Miracle City

Hayes Theatre Co, October 24

Josie Lane, Marika Aubrey and Esther Hannaford. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Josie Lane, Marika Aubrey and Esther Hannaford. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

The hotly anticipated second coming of the Australian musical Miracle City is upon us and, praise the Lord, it more than lives up to expectations.

Written by Max Lambert (music) and the late Nick Enright (book and lyrics), the show had a sold out season at Sydney Theatre Company in 1996. For various reasons, it hasn’t been seen since.

But finally Luckiest Production is staging a revival at the Hayes Theatre Co, directed by Darren Yap, with Lambert himself as musical director.

Set in Tennessee, Miracle City tells of US televangelist family the Truswells – Ricky (Mike McLeish), his gospel-singing wife Lora-Lee (Blazey Best) and their wholesome children, 16-year old Loretta (Hilary Cole) and younger son Ricky-Bob (Cameron Holmes).

The musical happens in real time during one of their Sunday morning TV shows. With the cameras on them it’s all gleaming white smiles, glorious country-gospel songs and cheesy, God-will-heal-you joy. But backstage, a much darker story is unfolding.

Ricky is determined to build a Christian theme park (“first you pray, and then you play”) but, unbeknown to Lora-Lee, the Truswell ministry is hemorrhaging money and massively in debt. Possible salvation arrives in the form of filthy rich, fire-and-brimstone preacher Millard Sizemore (Peter Kowitz). But Sizemore wants something shocking in return.

Lambert has described Miracle City as something of an “anti-musical” in that the songs don’t function as they normally do in a book show. They don’t further the action, nor do they illuminate character or motive (though I’ll Hold On does give us an insight into Bonnie-Mae’s pain).

Instead the musical numbers all happen as part of the TV show. They convey the shiny façade that the Truswells present to the world. Reality happens in the dialogue scenes.

They’re beautiful songs, though, ranging from the rousingly uplifting to the comical to the hauntingly moving, and Yap’s excellent cast absolutely nails them.

At the show’s emotional heart, Best gives a stunning performance as a woman whose life is suddenly undone. One minute she is recommending you “find the God in your man”. The next she hardly recognises her husband.

Renowned as an actor in straight theatre, Best gives us a woman who is a glitzy construct of the armour-like wig, make-up and jewellery she wears, then strips herself bare emotionally in a raw, heart-rending performance. And she can sing too.

Hannaford is also quietly affecting as recovering addict Bonnie-Mae. Her soulful, floating rendition of I’ll Hold On is exquisite, and she also unleashes powerhouse vocals with Marika Aubrey and Josie Lane as the trio of Citadel Singers: Aubrey as the down-to-earth, rock-solid Eulella and Lane as the joy-filled, true-believing Charlene.

Cole is perfect as Loretta, looking as angelic as she sounds in her long skirt, cardigan, pearls and hair ribbons, yet hinting at darker corners as her faith, naivety and teenage friction with her mother prove a frightening combination.

Holmes is also excellent as Ricky-Bob, his subtle expressions so incredibly telling and poignant you find yourself watching his every reaction.

Mike McLeish and Blazey Best. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Mike McLeish and Blazey Best. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

McLeish and Kowitz have less to work with in that Ricky and Sizemore are written with less psychological depth than Lora-Lee, but both actors invest the roles with a cold charisma. The way that Kowitz alone never smiles for the camera is particularly chilling.

Jason Kos completes the cast with a strong performance as the (non-singing) stage manager Billy.

The set by Michael Hankin is little more than a sparkly curtain with a couple of monitors and dressing room tables on either side of the stage, but with Hugh Hamilton’s lighting helping to shift the focus between the TV studio and backstage, it’s all it needs in the tiny space.

Roger Kirk’s costumes, with a red-white-and-blue look for the Truswells, capture the cheap glitz of the world they have created, with Ben Moir’s wigs the fabulous, finishing touch.

Choreographer Kelley Abbey completes the top creative team assembled by Yap and she too finds a way to create movement that works perfectly in the tiny venue.

Miracle City begins in celebratory mode and ends in shattering fashion as we contemplate the disgusting self-interest, ego and abusive behaviour of two men in positions of power, while others find new strength to face the world and carry on.

The show could arguably still do with a little dramaturgical finessing but in just 85 minutes it takes you on a roller-coaster ride that makes you laugh, cry and shudder. It still feels disturbingly relevant and it’s great that it’s finally back. Catch it while you can.

Miracle City runs at the Hayes Theatre Co until November 16. Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au or 02 8065 7337

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on November 2

 

Rachel Gordon interview

Rachel Gordon is about to star in Nick Enright’s 1989 rom-com Daylight Saving for Darlinghurst Theatre Company. She talks about the play and the many diverse credits in her bio.

Rachel Gordon. Photo: Helen White

Rachel Gordon. Photo: Helen White

Logie Award nominee Rachel Gordon has some pretty interesting things in her bio besides her many acting credits.

In 2007, she was personally trained by Al Gore and The Australian Conservation Foundation as a presenter for The Climate Change Project.

The following year she spent a month walking the Great Wall of China with various celebrities to raise money for Olivia Newton-John’s Cancer and Wellness Centre.

“Joan Rivers was on it. She turned up and said, ‘When you said the Great Wall I thought you said the Great Mall. What am I doing here?’ She was on the Great Wall of China walking along in her high heels. She was hilarious.

“I’m very lucky to have had a lot of incredible experiences like that,” says Gordon.

And don’t be surprised if Gordon one day adds “politician” to her c.v.

Her great grandfather was Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, while his wife, Dame Enid Lyons, was the first woman in the Australian parliament.

“That’s really cool for a feminist, isn’t it?” says Gordon.

“They died before I was born but I’d like to get into politics and I know my brother is very keen as well so it might be in the blood.

“I have a lot of things I would like to change. I really love that Ghandi quote: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ There’s no point sitting back and pointing the finger at politicians. I should probably get up and do something, so who knows?”

For the time being, however, Gordon continues to be in demand as an actor.

She is about to star in a production of Nick Enright’s 1989 hit rom-com Daylight Saving directed by Adam Cook for Darlinghurst Theatre Company with a cast including Helen Dallimore, Belinda Giblin and Ian Stenlake.

“Ian Stenlake and I actually went to NIDA together and lived together for a while – not as a couple but in a share house with lots of other students. We’ve never worked together professionally so that’s really nice,” she says.

Gordon is best known for her television work in shows such as The Moodys, Blue Heelers and Home and Away. She has just finished filming a new Channel Seven series called The Killing Field with Rebecca Gibney and Peter O’Brien in which she plays Gibney’s character’s sister.

She has also done plenty of theatre over the years.

“When I first came out of NIDA that’s all I did,” she says. “It took a long time to get much TV work and then that was what I did for a period of time. But over the last couple of years I’ve been doing quite a lot of theatre again and I absolutely adore it. There’s nothing like having an audience in the room with you.”

Enright (The Boy From Oz, Cloudstreet, Lorenzo’s Oil) wrote Daylight Saving for his close friend, actor Sandy Gore. At the time, he was dispirited by his lack of playwriting success and he considered the play a last ditch effort. Fortunately it proved to be a hit, leading to a stellar career. Sadly, he died in 2003 from melanoma, aged 52.

“It’s such an honour to play this role especially because Nick Enright was so dearly loved by pretty much everybody in the theatre community that met him,” says Gordon.

“But I was terrified when I actually got the role because Sandy is such a dear friend and I so want to do the play and her justice. So I called her and told her and she’s been very supportive.”

Gordon plays a successful Sydney restaurateur who contemplates having a fling with an old flame (Stenlake) while her husband is overseas on one of his many business trips. But their candle-lit dinner is constantly interrupted.

“There’s this beautiful feeling in the play, which I think Nick fostered in a lot of his work of really seizing the moment – as he did in his own life. He filled it with so much and affected so many people on so many levels through his generosity of spirit, his largesse, his intellect and his humour. He gave us these wonderful plays and he taught thousands of students.

“There is a real sense of urgency in the play. Felicity, my character, has one night to perhaps live out her dream of being with this ex-flame. We all have these moments in our lives where you think ‘what would have happened if I had taken a different turn?’

“It’s a very charming romantic comedy and I think it will make people laugh and feel happy and hold their dear ones close,” says Gordon.

Gordon’s own dear ones include her two children with actor Jon Sivewright, who she met on Home and Away.

“I’ve got a three-year old and a ten-month old. He’s with the babies at the moment being a very good father,” she says. “They probably feel like they’re on holiday getting everything they want!”

Daylight Saving runs at the Eternity Playhouse until November 30. Bookings: darlinghursttheatre.com or 8356 9987

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on October 26

Totem

The Grand Chapiteau, Entertainment Quarter, October 28

The Crystal Man. Photo: OSA Images, costume by Kym Barrett

The Crystal Man. Photo: OSA Images, costume by Kym Barrett

A regular visitor to our shores since 1999, Canada’s Cirque du Soleil has garnered a reputation for presenting awesomely skilled performers in super-slick productions that look spectacular but feel a bit soulless.

For Totem the company enlisted renowned Canadian theatrical innovator Robert Lepage as writer and director.

One of 19 Cirque du Soleil shows currently playing globally, Totem fits clearly into the company’s body of work, with all its trademark characteristics, but Lepage has managed to add some nice human touches to the show.

A fixed trapeze act by Guilhem Cauchois and Sarah Tessier becomes a delightful mid-air flirtation, for example. A routine on rings is given a humourous, beach twist by having competing, buffed male poseurs in bathers and sunnies being outshone by a bikini-clad woman.

Billed as a journey through human evolution, Totem begins with The Crystal Man descending from the pinnacle of the Big Top like a human mirror ball or glittering Spiderman “to spark life on earth” apparently. In a costume encrusted with 4,500 reflective pieces, it’s a dazzling opening.

Totem then travels across time from the swamp, where acrobats in amphibian costumes swing on a skeletal carapace, to cosmonauts in glow-in-the-dark Lycra fixing their gaze on Outer space.

Russian Bars. Photo: OSA Images. Costumes by Kym Barrett

Russian Bars. Photo: OSA Images. Costumes by Kym Barrett

Along the way we encounter Native American hoop dancing by Eric Hernandez, a Darwin-like scientist spinning illuminated balls like orbiting planets around a giant transparent funnel, and a cute visual evocation of the ascent of man. But the evolutionary theme feels rather ad hoc, with some of the explanations in the program decidedly far-fetched.

The performance skills are amazing, however, and the show is beautifully staged, with shimmering projections and stunning costumes (designed by Australian Kym Barrett).

Highlights include five young Chinese women (Bai Xiangjie, Hao Yuting, He Xuedi, Wu Yurong and Yang Jie) on towering unicycles kicking bowls into the air and catching them on their heads and on each other’s. The foot juggling Crystal Ladies, identical twins Marina and Svetlana Tsodikova from Belarus who spin mats on their hands and feet, also dazzle.

As is often the case with Cirque du Soleil shows the clowns aren’t terribly funny though and the music has a wishy-washy ambient feel.

With several of the standout acts in the first half of the show, the second half is a slower burn but Totem ends on a high with the Russian Bars act in which acrobats bounce from springy planks to tumble through the air: a real cracker.

So, no great surprises if you’ve seen Cirque du Soleil before but still a highly entertaining show – which it would want to be for the ticket prices, which range from $59 to $345.

Totem is at the Entertainment Quarter until January 4. Bookings: wwww.cirquedusoleil.com It then plays in Melbourne from January 21, Brisbane from April 10, Adelaide from June 11 and Perth from July 31