A cafe table and chair sit empty on a circular stage, an unopened bottle of green liquid standing at attention on the table’s surface.
A cafe table and chair sit empty on a circular stage, an unopened bottle of green liquid standing at attention on the table’s surface. From the wings a glamorous chanteuse saunters out and is seated by a waiter who prepares a vibrant emerald hued cocktail for her in a series of intricate rituals. After just one sip she launches into a stunning rendition of a classic cabaret song that has the room enthralled. Welcome to the world of Absinthe. Staged in the historical European Spiegeltent, with its opulent décor of mirrors, wooden panelling and velvet, it was hard to believe that we were actually in the grounds of the Rod Laver Arena with the Australian Open frenzy mere metres away, and not in a decadent cabaret club in 1920’s Berlin. Billed as 'a night time saunter through the strangest, most sultry circus in town”, Absinthe collides fair ground attraction with torch song and spectacle within the elegant, sumptuous surrounds of the Speigeltent. Described by The New York Times as "Cirque du Soleil channelled through The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Absinthe is a circus- meets-burlesque variety show, which premiered in New York, and had all of the expected blend of skill, erotic innuendo and sheer zaniness. As part of its longstanding tradition for variety, the shows content changes almost every night and local talent - culled from places as diverse as gay bars and fetish clubs - are recruited at every new touring destination to give the show a truly cosmopolitan feel. The brainstorm of Australian expatriates Ross Mollison and Vallejo Gantner, Absinthe, once described as "the anti-Cirque du Soleil," began at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2004 as La Clique, fast gaining international acclaim. According to Mollison "It harks back to the history of people first enjoying performance, from drawing a circle in the sand and sitting around it, to Roman theatre... It's about being up close. People like to feel they are in a room that is warm, beautiful and surprising too." The show’s sleazy emcee "The Gazzilionaire" and his daffy assistant Penny introduce a dazzling array of acts that had the audience crying tears of laughter and sitting open mouthed in awe. To name but a few of the amazing (and stunningly attractive performers on stage) Australian performer Anna Lumb aka “The Pocket Rocket” amused with her expertise in trapeze and hula hoops: the muscular hand-balancing act Duo Sergio performed dazzling acts of gymnastics that had the audience spellbound: and the world’s most famous conceptual burlesque artist, Julie Atlas Muz showed us old world glamour with a twist at its very best. Unfortunately, in an annoying example of censorship for a show clearly labelled as suitable for audiences over the age of 18, the show that Melbourne audiences will see is a toned down version of others staged in cultural capitals such as New York and London. In a recent interview, as reported in the Age newspaper, Tennis Australia' chief executive Steve Wood told radio station 3AW that he had asked for it “to be toned down” for tennis audiences after Absinthe’s opening night performance featured a striptease, swearing and simulated masturbation (for which he admitted that organisers had not received any complaints and no one had walked out of). Surely Melbourne audiences are more culturally sophisticated than Mr Wood gives us credit for? Absinthe is currently performing in the Tennis Centre during the Australian Open. From $19.90. Monday 26 January 2009. 07:00 PM Tuesday 27 January 2009. 07:00 PM Tuesday 27 January 2009. 09:00 PM Wednesday 28 January 2009. 07:00 PM Thursday 29 January 2009. 07:00 PM Friday 30 January 2009. 07:00 PM Saturday 31 January 2009. 07:00 PM For tickets visit Ticketek.

Stephen Rhys

Monday 26 January, 2009

About the author

Stephen Rhys is a freelance writer who has worked extensively in the arts. He is a past host for JOY FM's Arts Show and was a board member of the Queer Film Festival.