Strut & Fret @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Paradiso
8:45pm, Tue 26 Feb 2013
Strut & Fret’s reputation for producing shows that become poster-children for the Fringe is beyond compare: Cantina is the most recent example, but the Strut & Fret involvement in The Garden has also seen shows such as La Clique (and its more recent incarnation La Soirée) all became populist must-see spectacles.
But there’s a level of predictability that comes with these events – they’re all meticulously constructed, to be sure, but they become somewhat formulaic in their content – and so I wind up carrying preconceived notions into the shows that carry that flagship billing. Expectations are set: the show would likely have a loose visual aesthetic, possibly a complementary aural theme, and some polished feats of flexibility and strength portrayed with slightly adult overtones.
So… that’s what I expected from Limbo. And, truth be told, I was unsure whether I’d even bother going – that’s how convinced I was that there would be little new on display.
But when some relatively Fringe-savvy friends started reporting that Limbo was most certainly different (in a good way) to the aforementioned shows, I wavered; there were still some tickets available for Cheap Tuesday (this being the first time I can remember targeting the cheap seats!), so I quickly snaffled a pair. My usual Fringe Buddy was unable to attend, so the offer went out to my Twitter followers: a ticket for the price of a beer and a chat (what a bargain, eh? If only you followed me on Twitter! ;)
Jane took me up on the offer and, as we chatted in the beer queue (thus fulfilling the payment requirements), one of her friends kindly planted himself in the Limbo queue for us. By the time we had obtained our beverages and located him, the snaking line had just started filing into Paradiso; her friend was at the far end of the top of the u-turn in the queue (which then straightened out for the rest of the waiting patrons). To save walking the pointless ten metres up and back on the u-turn, the people in front of us were just waiting for the rest of the u-turn to move to the opposite side of the “u”, hence allowing them to close the loop and shorten the queue somewhat; however, the people behind us started getting incredibly irate, and the yelling began: “if you don’t fucking move, we’re cutting in fucking front of you.”
Which I thought was a little… well, harsh. Unnecessary, even.
The “waiting” group started pointing out the efficiency of their intention with… well, a sense of gloating superiority; this did little to reduce the tension, and the bickering and aggro continued until we were inside the Spiegeltent – not really a chill start to proceedings. Once inside, though, one of the Paradiso staff recognised Jane and ushered us away from the teeming masses; did we mind sitting across the aisle from one another if we were down the front? We barely even looked at each other for confirmation – “hell no!” – and so I found myself front-and-centre on an aisle (sitting next to another of Jane’s acquaintances), with Jane herself on the aisle one row back (and yet, due to a quirk of seating geometry I still haven’t quite figured out yet, level with me).
Anyway: awesome seats. I was very pleased; I was being given every opportunity to experience Limbo at its best.
And the show opened more-or-less as expected: Sxip Shirey led an eclectic musical troupe (including a tuba and trumpet) through a smokey number that matched the dreamlike dry-ice atmosphere, before Jonathan Nosan performed some feats of physical flexibility that, upon reflection, were pretty bloody amazing… but, at the time, I was somewhat blasé: after all, I’d seen some pretty good routines earlier in the evening, and these tricks didn’t feel that much more impressive.
They were, of course, but I needed distance and hindsight to be able to see it.
Some fire breathing and aerial routines followed, but – aside from the tuba player producing a brilliant dub-step musical number – I felt like I was being pleasantly entertained, rather than enthralled. Happy, but not delighted. I remember checking the time at about halfway through the show.
And then it all happened.
Three men swayed out over the crowd on metal poles, my proximity such that I could see the beads of sweat on the performers as they slid past… as well as the strain on the poles; I was gasping as much at the engineering as the spectacle. Elevated pole balancing a metre from me, muscles straining, then the implausibility of Mikael Bres hopping one-handed from pole to pole. Then the magic component: an impalement, again only metres away, as Nosan descends to purgatory (through the loose narrative of the show). And the closing act, a time-tested-and-true disappearing girl routine, that still has me scratching my head.
And it was all there. Right there in front of me.
For all my indifference regarding the first half of the show, the second half of Limbo was totally worth the price of admission. It felt new, fresh, innovative… and, what’s more, it was a quality spectacle that almost – almost – equalled the superb Smoke and Mirrors as my favourite big-budget variety show. Sure, it wasn’t worth a standing ovation (as much as one woman vainly tried to encourage), but it was certainly a bloody wonderful experience from my – admittedly superb – position in the crowd.