Circus review: From Old Things, Circa Cairns

Marvels from a First Nations-led, Cairns-based contemporary circus.

What happens when you mix traditional First Nations storytelling with circus skills? The kindling of an emerging circus style from a fledgling fire. Circa Cairns does more than spark a newly devised work – From Old Things is a flare bursting with heat.  

As the audience gathered in the foyer prior to opening night, there was a buzz of excitement for the upcoming shows. Yet a poignant pause was felt when Minjil, a local Indigenous group, delivered a Welcome to Country – using both song and dance to acknowledge the traditional owners of Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Country.

Each member of the performing ensemble brought their own expertise to the mix. They were building their rapport as a group and one could truly see it as a collaboration. Director Harley Mann’s concept of connecting back to his Indigenous heritage was embellished by each performer.

Mann’s own leading-from-the-front performance resulted in a strong foundation for the work to build around. Ally Humphris’ acrobatics astounded – from tumbling, flipping and twisting floor work, to her aerial prowess atop her troupe mates’ shoulders while intricately braiding her own hair. Crystal Stacey’s hula-hooping was hypnotic and, finally, Margot Mansfield – who I believe is the newest member of the troupe – brought new energy to the stage with the first solo spot of the performance. 

Safety is paramount to the longevity of an arts career, even more so in circus. The care and compassion shown by all performers toward each other, was never questioned and was made all the more heart-warming by the difficulty of the tricks.

Lighting and set design by Yaron Lifschitz allowed this devised work to take centre stage where it belonged. The use of spotlights and lucid colours dappled the stage with emotion, highlighting all the intricate body movements on display. The set was intimate, only using half the available stage. With a corrugated iron edging surrounding the space, the burnt husk of a tree rounded off the set – perhaps symbolising the moment of pause between destruction and germination of new life.  

Sound designer Luke Briscoe spaced the music to be visceral and varied, giving the audience a hint of the type of acrobatic movements coming up next. That kind of anticipation added to the performance, almost as if the sound was a fifth performer. Evoking the cultural traditions from Indigenous song and infusing them with some fast-paced punk-like riffs, Briscoe’s craft augmented Circa Cairns’ aesthetic of breath-taking acrobatics. 

The costumes, designed by Libby McDonnell and Anna Handford, were understated, opting for functionality over gimmicky aesthetics, allowing the performers’ movements to be uninhibited and to keep them comfortable under the heat of the lights. 

Read: Dance review: Dance X part 3

This work was an inventive collaboration, but there is still plenty of scope for Circa Cairns to continue raising the bar with each subsequent production it creates. 

From Old Things By Circa Cairns
Bulmba-Ja Arts Centre, Cairns
Director: Harley Mann
Lighting and Set Design: Yaron Lifschitz
Sound Design: Luke Briscoe 
Costume Design: Libby Mcdonnell/Anna Handford
Creative Producer: Rebecca Youdell
Ensemble:  Ally Humphris (Wakka Wakka), Harley Mann (Wakka Wakka), Margot Mansfield, Crystal Stacey  

From Old Things was performed from 2-5 November 2022.                


Douglas Robins is an Arts worker in far north Queensland, is fanatical about theatre and believes theatre should always be inclusive to all. He completed a B.A. in Theatre and English at James Cook University, Cairns in 2011. An author of short plays and theatre reviews, an actor, director and president of community theatre company Tropical Arts Inc.