Stepping into the Melba Spiegeltent is a wonderful way to prepare yourself for immersion in another time and space. It helps you prepare your suspension of disbelief for the show that’s about to follow.
Society bills itself as an ‘adults-only evening…centred around a lavish secret society party on Mardi Gras’. The New Orleans vibe is well established with costumes, music and set pieces that are evocative of every alcohol ad you’ve ever seen that features The Big Easy. And the Spiegeltent setting helps to reinforce that old world charm.
However the adults-only, secret society aspects may be overselling the raunch more than a little bit. As someone who is well used to attending burlesque events, I was anticipating nipple pasties, simulated sex acts and perhaps some Eyes Wide Shut references, but aside from a wonderfully well done quick-change by the MC, most of the show was quite PG.
Speaking of the MC though, while his outfit was channeling Prince, his patter was all Eddie Murphy. His accent and delivery were probably what really helped bring home the New Orleans vibe of the evening (although treading a fine line with minstrelsy at some points).
The show opens with an aerial hoop performance. It felt kind of like a crowd of drunks watching amateur jazz; neither the performer nor the audience knew quite when to applaud. It’s possible that the aerial performer was suffering from opening night nerves. The juggler, however, is a true revelation. I’ve always considered juggling to be Olympic level hand-eye co-ordination; impressive, but not something I care about. Society helped remind me that I’m an idiot in that regard. Their juggler does things with his mouth and hands that, to be honest, I’d happily pay to see again.
Society follows a similar cast structure to “Rouge”, and as such are equipped with their own talented songbird. This was probably the only part of the show where their New Orleans vibe started to fall down a little. Her costume and song choice were very country and western, and as she walked among the crowd playing up to audience members I struggled to discern what the song was actually about. This was a shame, because her voice is genuinely awesome.
There are two tumblers, (one of whom you’ll recognise as Matty B from Melbourne’s Best Burlesque) who bring a wonderful harlequin colour and spectacle to the evening. Matty is obviously an experienced performer and his confidence and skill will never cease to amaze me. His female companion was also exceptionally talented, but similarly to her aerial counterpart, seemed to be quite tentative with many of her movements. To be honest though, with acrobatics, this really just helps to build the tension of the audience; a reminder that this is live and at any point someone could break bones.
For me though the true standout of the evening was the voodoo contortionist. I’m not going to lie, one of my favourite adult entertainers is a contortionist (Mia Malkova for anyone interested), and I tend to associate the skill with a sexy level of flexibility, which was why this performance was such a revelation. The music, the dry ice, the costume and makeup, everything was put together in a way that made it one of the creepiest damn things I’ve ever seen. Like a live demonstration by Linda Blair, it was spine-chilling while still managing to be impressive as hell.
The show features a variety of dances, acrobatic performances, and musical numbers, and the finale is exactly the kind of spectacle I would expect from a New Orleans themed show. It is an exceptional way to spend an evening and a great option for date night. If you enjoy big, colourful entertainment make sure you see it before it leaves town.
Society is on at the Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood from 10 – 26 May. Tickets are available via the AfterDark Theatre website.