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Review: Carnival of Mysteries on Theatre Notes

This review of Carnival of Mysteries was written by Alison Croggon for Theatre Notes. See it in its original context here.

One of my highlights so far is the wild and wicked Carnival of Mysteries at Fortyfive Downstairs. It’s the most extravagant so far of Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith’s explorations of burlesque, which are providing increasingly immersive experiences that they call “intimate spectacle”. I last saw them taking over La Mama with the sensory overload of their Triple Bill of Wild Delight: and what a blast that was. Those who saw that show will have an approximate idea of what to expect in Carnival of Mysteries: extravagantly staged passion, perverse and liberating sensual delight, sly comedy, nudity, and excess, excess and more excess. And dancing.

That’s what happens at Fortyfive Downstairs, only more so. When you arrive, you are given $30,000 in carnival money and a program, and then you are simply taken down stairs and let loose in the space. It’s set up as as a fairground, with miscellaneous tents painted in circus colours and sumptuously undressed performers spruiking their shows. There’s a central area with a bar and cabaret tables, where you can take some time out with a wicked cocktail and play noughts and crosses; otherwise, you pays your money and you takes your chances. It’s a show where you make your own narrative, so everyone’s experience will be different.

I heard there were altogether about 30 acts. We saw around ten, I guess, in the almost two hours we spent there. They ranged from the Garcon Gigolo (the incomparable Brian Lucas), who got nude and personal, to Carolyn Connors’s performance of Erik Satie in the Shrine, to Moira Finucane’s idiosyncratic portrayal of a Librarian (needless to say, not like any Librarian I’ve ever seen, although it’s a welcome reminder of the perverse eroticism of literary endeavour). Every now and then the crowd would gather in the general area for a “free” act: Finucane again in huge metallic wings, declaiming that “revenge is a dish best eaten… frequently”, or Azaria Universe shoving fairyfloss in her bra, and eating it, or a jaw-dropping performance of Billie Holiday songs by the wondrous Lois Olney, in which “everyone and I stopped breathing”.

It’s basically a glorious party. Funny, beautiful, unexpectedly touching and enormously enjoyable. Go with someone you love.

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