Circus review: Blush, QPAC

Sexy and subversive, this is very much a circus for grown-ups.

Vintage vaudeville that’s mixed with a new era of sexual empowerment turns a regular Friday night crowd into a flirty one, whatever your attraction or desires.

As we clamber to our seats, ringmaster Paul Westbrook instructs us to remain seated for our own safety. We were advised Blush would be intimate, and indeed it is: witness the performers’ sweat dripping down like raindrops on the audience.

Act One consists of awe-inspiring vignettes of circus mastery. From the lofty heights of aerial acrobatics to the dirty depths of fill-in comedy, it’s a roller coaster of wonder. With fire eating to opera singing and silk dancing in the mix, surely there’s an act for everyone.

This production has no smoke and mirrors; its design elements are stripped back in order to better showcase the performers’ talent. Blush operates as a traditional vaudeville-style circus, with a series of separate acts linked together, shaken up and garnished with a modern twist of lights and sound. Music jumps from Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Bang Bang’ to Handel’s ‘Ah, mio cor!’ sung by the formidable Christine Ibrahim.

Performers move through the air as gracefully as birds in flight. Their sexy costumes reveal not just bare skin, but the athleticism in terms of the toned and sculptured bodies required to execute the marvels on stage. 

Being a circus for grown-ups, intimate relationships are played out on stage, but what is most intimate is seeing the performers’ trust in each other in every lift, throw and moment. This trust is so delicately portrayed between Jessie McKibbin and Lyndon Johnson performing a playfully romantic sequence with a gymnastics wheel. Their connection makes it seem as though they are in a private rendezvous and the audience has all but disappeared.

Things turn up a notch in the final act before interval when the ensemble don lampshades on their heads, performing to Norah Jones’ ‘Turn Me On’ followed by David Guetta and Nicki Minaj’s song of the same name. With a kiss towards the Moulin Rouge in Paris, the nudity is artfully interwoven into the circus.

Read: Exhibition review: Peter Tyndall

While Blush eases us into erotica in Act One, Act Two gyrates us into animalistic fetish, with dominatrix costumes by April Dawson that come complete with whips, chains and a carrot strap-on. This is where the show really showcases its niche, as director Elena Kirschbaum’s vision takes off, not merely in terms of a sexy cabaret, but as a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Blush is an offering for all women, men, non-binary, gay, straight, bi, pan and everything in between – suggesting that sex should be fun, no matter what you’re into. 

A dance break for a costume change slows the build-up to the climax, but the audience needs to take that breath for the final two turns: an aria by Christine Ibrahim and a finale threesome between Christopher Carlos, Lyndon Johnson and Sophie Seccombe.

BLUSH Circus for grown ups
Presented by QPAC
Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Director: Elena Kirschbaum
Producer: Highwire Entertainment
Lighting Designer and Technical Manager: Sarah Platts
Choreographers: George Evangelakos, Paul Westbrook
Costume Designer: April Dawson
Performers: Paul Westbrook, Christopher Carlos, Christine Ibrahim, Lyndon Johnson, Jessie McKibbin, Sophie Seccombe
Tickets: from $69

BLUSH will be performed until 12 February 2023.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.