Above – Jasmin Tait. Cover – Ensemble. Photos – Cameron Grant

It was the opposite of a Baker’s dozen for the cast of NICA’s (National Institute of Circus Arts) opening night of Famous.

The graduating class was down from 12 performers to 11 after a last minute injury took a student performer out of the mix.

But if director Carita Farrer Spencer hadn’t explained that pre-show, we wouldn’t have been any wiser. Quick thinking improv skills got everyone through and the ensemble show flowed regardless of the unexpected disruption.

This is a smaller third-year cohort than usual, making it easier to work group dynamics and build personalities within the crowd. As is necessary for a graduation showcase, individual acts pepper the action. The circus skills are high and shine brightly, especially when dramatic ideas are sometimes overextended.

Using the concept of the superficiality of fame as a starting point, a set (by Tim Rutty) employs a very high staircase and platform that suggests the VIP section of a club. The physical scenarios revolve around fitting in, being shunned, stifling under social pressure (expressed through circus apparati like ropes encircling and weighing down a performer), all accented with kooky waving and preening and a cartoonish celebrity vibe.

A red carpet (heavy duty circus flooring) rolls out, paving the way for travelling acrobatics and physical banter including three-person stack-ups and dynamic acro-groupings. The faux sophistication is set next to a distinctly Aussie caravan (complete with campfire) that creates a doorway for the performers to announce themselves and saunter onto stage.

Savannah Wegman’s costume design is very cabaret – sleeveless long tuxedo jackets paired with crushed velvety bottoms that look like ruffled-up stage curtains. Burgundies and reds, with a hint of metallics accent the posers, preeners and sunglassed-bouncers.

Gabriel Walker as an acrobat, clown and general all-rounder bookends the show. He starts as the hapless lonely guy who can’t even toast a marshmallow without charring it black and ends up part of a chummy network of friends around the campsite. His physicality, including his vocalising various sounds, is committed in its absurdity, making him a good through-line character.

Other show highlights include Taylor Vogt’s fire spinning, Luca Trimboli’s aerial rope work and Jasmin Tait's swinging trapeze.

Sound design (by Darius Kedros) with snippets of photo snapping, folio sounds and electronic beats marks the action. Make-up of exaggerated skinny eyebrows and masquerade lips (by Melbourne Polytechnic Makeup Students) also contribute to Famous’s fun aesthetic and critique.

Event details

NICA presents

Director Carita Farrer Spencer

Venue: NICA | 39 – 59 Green Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: 13 – 22 June 2024
Tickets:  $15 – $40
Bookings: nica.com.au/performs


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