CIRCUS REVIEW: Scotch and Soda

Company 2’s Scotch and Soda began its life at Woodford — and that grassroots festival vibe stays with it, even confined to a theatre. The Judith Wright Centre again proves itself to be a chameleon space: Dan Black’s clever lighting design makes use of colourful string-lights to evoke the big top. Company 2 (known for Cantina) conjures an immersive speakeasy atmosphere in the round through simple design, costuming and music. In this case, the Crusty Suitcase Band binds the production together and takes it from great to unforgettable.

Scotch and Soda features circus staples — acrobalance, aerials and slapstick — but what sets Company 2 apart is that, while each performer is at the top of their game, there’s a larrikin sense of chaos and play. It reassured me (just in case I was wondering if I was having a great time or not) to see two of Limbo’s cast members (Danik Abishev and Heather Holliday)* in the audience, having a damn good time. If international circus talent of that magnitude loves your show, it’s definitely good stuff.

Scotch and Soda by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Scotch and Soda photographed by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Chelsea McGuffin (co-director), whose signature move is to tiptoe across wine bottles, could balance her way out of any dilemma; David Carberry, Daniel Catlow and Ben Walsh bring chemistry to adagio and vaulting; and Mozes is hilarious on roller-skates but gobsmacking on trapeze. But Scotch and Soda is more than spectacle: the Crusty Suitcase Band is a vital part of the performance, with weird sax breaks and percussion-offs definite highlights. They even play the plastic bag, to great effect.

The only time Scotch and Soda takes a dip in energy is during a sequence featuring budgerigars, whose unwillingness to play along is comic, but ultimately overlong — and it’s unclear how keen the budgies are to keep us company. (There was also a puppy at the start that didn’t reappear — alas!)

Company 2’s last production, She Would Walk the Sky (World Theatre Festival, in collaboration with Finegan Kruckemeyer), struggled with incorporating sluggish prose. In Scotch and Soda, the company returns to its strengths, and the result is sheer delight.

SCOTCH AND SODA played at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from 24 to 27 September, as part of Brisbane Festival. Company 2 returns to JWCoCA in November with Sediment.

*BTW, Strut and Fret’s LIMBO is completely astounding and I spent all my BrisFest dollars on seeing it twice.


auf wiedersehen spiegeltent

auf wiedersehen spiegeltent


the circus is gone
big top
stripped to bone

wide-load giraffe
skeleton canters

in smoke and hammers
collapses collapses
ghosts of their shimmering
crushed into clay

at first light we steal glances
carnies disguised as men
unravel canvas

for one last act
The Great Vanishment


we return
to one-hearted one-steps

preacher calls to his lambs
bowler tumbling downarm
and we come

their suicides unwind
from sky-held ribbons

our strongest men
are not strong enough
our women cannot fly

that man is a tin soldier
he is all moving parts
that woman hovers
en pointe en tightrope
their drunken limbs forget
the ways they should not bend

we swallow whole words

and the lion obeys
with a wink in the glint of its fang

we cannot contort
our mouths
back into grins

they fold back into boxes
like costumes like paper
with string and bells secured to their toes

Zenobia Frost
“auf wiedersehen spiegeltent” — a paean to Brisbane Festival‘s Spiegeltent and Strut & Fret’s Cantina — received 3rd prize in the 2011 John Marsden Awards.

September: Festival Month…

…after last festival month!

Brisbane has been fairly wild for the last couple of months. We’ve had festivals crawling out of our ears, blowing out our noses, oozing out of our eye sockets, and generally affecting us bodily. But in pleasant ways.

Queensland Poetry Festival

QPF was particularly splendid this year. My picks:

  • Andy Jackson and Rachael Guy performing a poetry-puppetry collaboration that moved us all to tears (and caused Andy’s books to sell out in about two seconds);
  • Superduo Emily XYZ (poet-in-residence) and Myers Bartlett performing sound poems for two voices (if they don’t get it, if they don’t get it, it’s all right, it’s all right…);
  • Ross Donlon, who runs the monthly Castlemaine Poetry Cup and writes warm, often subtly hilarious poems;
  • Luke Beesley, maker of edible images, from Melbourne;
  • Pam Schlinder’s launch of her long-awaited debut collection, A Sky You Could Fall Into; and
  • Madrigal Maladies first full-length performance (okay, that ones’ a blatant self-plug…). Poet Nerissa Rowan and I teamed up to experiment with two-voice spoken word madness–reintrepting the lyrics of well-known songs (about illness!). We sang in public and it was terrifying and rad!

Brisbane Festival

And then we’ve had Brisbane Writers Festival, and Brisbane Festival (with its glorious fireworks–and all of us gathering on the hills in the old suburbs to watch the city burn), and Valley Fiesta is coming up this weekend. But for Brissie Fest picks:

  • Cantina are turning the gorgeous Spiegeltent into a den of sin and vice–can’t wait to see it tonight.
  • Deep Blue Orchestra will cram their roving & dancing orchestral adventures into the Spiegeltent on the 13th and 14th.
  • Wunderkammer, Circa’s newest production, will tumble into QUT Festival Theatre next week.

Non-Festival Stuff

Unless we call it the Festival of Zen. I was fortunate to be included in Overland Magazine as part of the 200th issue’s 200-line collaborative poem. And I gained infamy in QWeekend Magazine a couple of weeks ago, along with Graham Nunn and John Tranter and co.–thank you to everyone who has sent photocopies, actual copies, or mentioned it. I felt like Harry Potter for about a day. It was bizarre.

So yes, not quite the Festival of Zen this month, but it’s busy enough to look like it from inside my mindtank. As a final note, I’ve been procrastinating by playing point-and-click hidden object games, and I’m presently in love with Mishap: An Accidental Haunting. If anyone has any favourites, please recommend them.

You know, it’d be cool to get involved in writing for games, because I’ve played a lot of mediocre games in the last few weeks that could have been wild with a dedicated creative writer or an editor on team. What we need is a poetry text adventure. How awesome would that be? Maybe I could pitch that to The Edge or something; they’re groovy folks.

*wishes for more time and funding*


A generally cheerful and typically hopeful Zen signing out.

~ Zenobia