Step into the cosy La Petit Grand Theatre on a cold Canberra night and you’ll find yourself in a tent that might seat 50 at most. Take a seat in any one of the four rows – anywhere you sit, you’ll have a great view of the very small stage.
Papillon Unplugged is a stripped back version of the full Papillon show, playing for Canberra’s Wintervention Festival. The slick transitions and aerial acrobatics that are the staple of modern circuses are replaced with rustic decor and plenty of callbacks to classic vaudeville acts. That’s not to say the very small Papillon Unplugged cast aren’t incredibly talented – La Petit Grand Theatre is just a little too small to fit all the bells and whistles. To get a sense of just how confined the performers are, in one act, an acrobat stands atop another acrobat and touches the ceiling. So rather than be beholden to the modern concept of circuses, Papillon Unplugged makes the space work for them.
Charismatic MC El Bella wears a dress reminiscent of the classic circus ringmaster, and forms a real connection with the audience, guiding us through the show. She also doubles as a very versatile performer, including a few appearances with an axe (spoiler alert: the axe act features audience participation, so you might want to hide if you’re not up for it). The circus classics are there: juggling, acrobats and hula hoops all show up, but adapted for a tiny stage. And there is something particularly engaging and intimate about sitting less than a metre away from the action, compared to in a larger tent with a raised stage. Indeed, sitting in the front row, you really feel like a part of the show, and once or twice we had circus implements narrowly miss us – all part of the fun, of course.
The show also features acts that you probably won’t see in any other circus include a surprisingly risque balloon act, and a delightful songstress who finishes with a cheeky version of ‘My Neck, My Back’.
Papillon Unplugged promises an intimate circus performance, and boy, do they deliver. Running at just under an hour, if you’re looking for a quick escape this winter, find La Petit Grand Theatre on Garema Place and step into the world of Papillon Unplugged.
Papillon Unplugged is part of Canberra’s Wintervention Festival. It runs 7pm, Thursday 12 to Saturday 14 July and Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 July. Tickets start at $33 – book your tickets here.