Limbo is billed as “the show so hot, Madonna came twice.” And there is really only one way to describe this show: sexy.
The show is set in an space suspended between Heaven and Hell, though with the un-air-conditioned Spiegeltent turning into a furnace hot enough to bake the audience, one could be forgiven for thinking we had descended into the fires of Mordor. Luckily, the show is good enough that you occasionally forget you are likely evaporating into thin air, and the delightfully flirtatious performers with their unapologetically sexy personas are enough to distract even the most heat-exhausted.
Directed by Scott Maidment for Strut & Fret Production House, this circus-cabaret hybrid is a riot, full of sensational music and brilliant performances. There is not a weak link in the cast, who have been headhunted from all over the world. The show straddles the lines between circus, cabaret and burlesque, full of gorgeous bodies that dance, sing, balance, contort, breathe fire, swallow swords and fly.
Each performer has the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand during their individual acts. There is contortionist Tigris, whose performance leaves you wondering whether or not he is actually a Gumby re-incarnate. The incredible strength and grace of Chinese pole artist Mikael Bres is beautiful, though his act feels strangely serene when surrounded by the heart-quickening hand- balancing of Danik Abishev and an exhilarating tap dance routine from the impossibly charismatic Australian Hilton Denis. Heather Holliday is a highlight, with her pin-up girl persona and her fiercely hot fire-breathing and sword-swallowing. Evelyne Allard’s aerial hoop routine is charming, but feels oddly out-of-place after an exciting bendy pole routine that sees performers fly over a squealing audience.
The cast perform with such ease and humour, and develop such a casual and flirty relationship with the audience, that you can’t help but be left wondering: why can’t I do that, too? The show finds a good balance between story and pure circus, though the ending feels a little anti-climactic, especially after a show overflowing with excitement and tension.
The closest we get to a ringmaster is band leader Elyas Khan who, dressed in a white suit, is charged with sending the performers to Heaven or Hell, though this is never properly explained. The music is composed by New York-based band leader Sxip Shirey, who has described the score as “a New York City brass band dancing through New Orleans on their way to an all night house party in Berlin.”
Performed by Khan, Eamon McNelis (known to Melbournians as the tuba player in Flap!) and Mick Stuart, with help from the performers, the score is hilarious and bizarre, with great heart, tying together the show perfectly with a winning combination of accordion, percussion, tuba and voice.
Set and lighting design from Philip Gladwell is at once fresh and classic. Lights flood the stage, reflect from the mirror-lined walls of the Spiegeltent, cascade like waterfalls, and stand to attention in beautiful thin poles. Costume design by Australian Zoe Rouse is also excellent, evoking both early-twentieth century sideshows and modern circus. It is these touches that plunge the audience deep into an alternate magical universe, elevating Limbo to something special.