A GREAT VALUE SHOW
HANUSSEN – THE PALACE OF BURLESQUE
Joe Bennett – writer
Mike Friend – director
Produced by Darryl Cribb
The Loons Circus Theatre Company – design and choreography
at Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland
From 11 Apr 2012 to 14 Apr 2012
Reviewed by Vanessa Byrnes, 14 Apr 2012
After a false start due to technical difficulties on opening night in Auckland – which was handled extremely well with 15 minutes of work being shown as a taster - returned 2 nights later to see the latest offering to Auckland from Christchurch-based company The Loons.
Mike Friend and his company of circo-arts practitioners are gaining a reputation for creating slightly zany, highly skilled work that showcases the company's best tricks within a strong theatrical concept.
Whereas their earlier work, The Butler, allowed each performer's skills (hula hoops, unicycle, juggling, silks, acrobatics, pole work, etc) to sneak up and surprise the audience in unexpected ways, Hanussen is more obvious. But then there's little room for subtlety when you're in a German nightclub in the early 1930's.
Following the last three days in the life of Eric Jan Hanussen, an Austrian Jewish clairvoyant and performer, the work unfolds in an adult's playground. It takes place in a kind of burlesque cabaret where twins cavort, women titillate with feathers and chains, men dress in drag and the Third Reich is in town. Hitler came to see Hanussen perform, and the company exploit the presence of this new order well as the work advances.
There's a wide array of sounds, images, tastes and forms of entertainment led by the palette of acts on offer. Joe Bennett writes selective biographical information about Hanussen well, but strangely this is the most undeveloped part of the show. Biographical information is not so interesting yet is vital to this piece.
Without a strong narrative that flows with sustained determination, it's hard to empathise with characters. I wanted Tom Trevella's mesmerising Hanussen to move me and involve the audience in a more specific story in a more specific place and time. Yet I didn't get enough detail about the man to make me follow the central narrative.
Should his story be told by all the characters, rather than one narrator? I think the slightly ‘bitsy' nature of a cabaret makes sustained narrative hard, but not impossible. Perhaps this is where the team should look to keep developing the show, particularly in the second half.
A great band supporting the show throughout adds real pizzazz to the whole scene. Flamenco dancing, Middle Eastern singing, percussion and vocals all lift the rich multicultural flavour of the piece. Vocals are strong and add depth to the pantheon of tastes on display. Follow spot, special effects and lighting design are well used, too. Selective use of mime and sound effects also work; should more of this be used to illustrate the narrative of Hanussen's demise?
Q Theatre is an ideal venue for this work with its thrust stage and three levels in a semi-intimate arena. It would be fitting to serve alcohol to the audience during the show and embrace the whole nightclub/cabaret experience much further.
Amongst a shared company effort I must mention Sophie Ewert, who is unrecognisable between characters. Hitler in drag was also a highlight; Pascal Ackermann is fantastic, although his ‘cabaret of the penis' goes a touch too far for my liking.
This is a great value show that offers something unique and diverse. It will keep developing with audience input, so go and see it.
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