Circus review: The Wet, Cairns Performing Arts Centre

A First Nations led ensemble turns to the force and beauty of nature for its inspiration.

Up in Far North Queensland, nature is an undeniable force in the summer with blistering temperatures and cyclonic winds. However, there is another natural phenomenon prevailing in the warmer months – rain. The rain-soaked monsoon season is the inspiration for Circa Cairns’ world premiere of its devised work, The Wet.

The performance had the audience awestruck – starting with an unexpected opening sequence involving all of the ensemble. Like a host of green ants descending the bark of a rainforest tree, they appeared one by one. They climbed down the suspended rope, each more intricate than the last, until there was a single mass of gyrating bodies. Satisfyingly, troupe leader and aerialist, Harley Mann, finished with a solo corde lisse performance of strength and skill.

A beautifully paced story ebbing and flowing between moments of frenetic action and serene calm then unfolded. Wooden saplings swayed in the breeze before a movement piece, during which the set was prepared for the cornucopia of stunning stunts to come. 

The five-performer ensemble comprised Jillibalu Riley, Bridie Hooper, Violetta Van Geyzel, Paul O’Keeffe and Harley Mann (who conceived the performance). Each performer had their shining moments on stage, mixing up the feats of strength with precise controlled sequences. 

The ensemble’s care for each other was on show as they upped the ante further, surpassing previous shows and performance levels with tricks of mounting difficulty. Using every inch of the stage, the acrobats even broke the fourth wall when, at one point, they abandoned the stage to perform a stunt in the middle of the audience.

A captivating rendition of an Indigenous totem brolga dance morphed into a courting ritual that has existed and recurred in various forms right up until more modern times. 

Breaking up the pace at the midway point, a stillness from the performers – with only the pitter patter of rain filling the silence – allowed the ensemble and audience alike to ready themselves for the second half of the show. 

The troupe’s penultimate stunt was their metamorphosis into human pyramids; they moved like water dripping between the treetop canopy, using just their bodies and each another’s unbreakable trust.  

The soundscape of The Wet gave the impression of sitting under the cover of a roof and hearing the rain patter above you. Augmenting the story arc’s continuity were sounds of rain – from light drizzle, through to heavy showers, then torrential downpours, to finally clearing up with the fresh rays of morning sunlight revealing a drenched and rejuvenated landscape.

Paired with the exceptional and thought-provoking lighting, the production team pushed the limits of audience anticipation. The use of light and shade was effective at highlighting specific points of the stage, drawing the eye there, such as when the performers were imitating travelling via canoe across swampland.

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Humorous snippets throughout broke up the emphasis on the physicality of the bodies. This was heightened by the playful costume design, which had an Aussie flavour with its tradie-inspired work shirts. A quick costume change transformed the performers into frolicking forest creatures getting out of the rain.

The finale had the entire cast return to wind down the performance with seemingly effortless balance work until blackout.  

The Wet, Circa Cairns
Cairns Performing Arts Centre

Production manager: Karen Engel
Lighting design: Johlian Glindon
Costume design: Helen Lavis
Creative producer: Rebecca Youdell
Company manager: Baeley Dear

Ensemble: Harley Mann, Jillibalu Riley, Violetta Van Geyzel, Paul O’Keeffe, Bridie Hooper
Creative support: Yaron Lifschitz, Criena Gehrke, Alice Muntz, Ash Youren, Ally Humphris, Chrystal Stacey, Ben Knapton.

The Wet was performed from 10-11 February 2023.

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.