Review by Thomas Gregory
On a humid autumn night, the Famous Spiegeltent opened its doors to a performance that was both highly appropriate for the setting, yet never seen before under its canvas. On a thrust stage, in front of a packed crowd, three bumbling private eyes hunted a murderer utilising all the tools available to them - mime, juggling, and acrobatics.
Dumtectives in Cirque Noir is a sometimes-hilarious, always-spectacular romp featuring three of Australia’s greatest clowns in a show that makes a mockery of Chandler and a hero of Buster Keaton. Its two-week run as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is not one to be missed.
Dumtectives opens on a murder; a long, drawn-out death using a “corde lisse” performance, making his gruesome end play out vertically in the middle of the room. The almost python-esque performance of a man who takes forever to die sets the tone for the rest of the night.
The three “dumtectives” each are given their moment to show their unique talents. Thomas McDonald, the previously mentioned corde lisse artist, provides a solid foundation for the team - often quite literally. His feats of strength are only more impressive when matched with the nimbleness which allows him to keep up with the other two performers.
Leigh Rhodes offers a flamboyant presentation while wowing us with bounce-juggling and a “Cyr Wheel” (an acrobatic trick using a single giant hoop) that was nauseatingly impressive.
It is Amy Nightingale-Olsen, however, that truly stood out. Straight-faced and never cracking under the humorous slapstick all around her, Amy offers herself up as both the “pinnacle” performer and dynamic prop. While her “Risley” performance, spinning a giant marijuana joint on her feet, is technically brilliant, it is when she is bouncing around the stage with feet and hands that she is at her most engaging.
Together, as the adage goes, they are greater than the sum of their parts. From complex acrobatic procedures to a three-person juggling act that takes the trick to a whole new level, the implicit trust and confidence the three performers have with each other is what makes Dumtectives more than your ordinary circus performance.
Surprisingly, some of the best moments in the show were not the acrobatic feats but the work that makes these clowns comedic actors more than they are gymnasts. Performers mime car chases and fight scenes, backed by pre-recorded sound effects that last minutes, offering proof of the split-second comedic timing this troupe has obtained through countless rehearsals. With the rise of an eyebrow or a well-timed double-take, they enhance jokes that may otherwise fall flat. On the rare occasion that a physical stunt fails, their cheeky smiles want us to cheer even louder.
Almost the entirety of the show is backed by original music, carefully scored to match the actions of each performer, and highlighting the setting. A classy, brassy tune turns the stage into a seedy nightclub before high-tempo piano playing turns the same area into a car chase in an instant.
It could be said that the writers would have benefited from a motivation to make the show rated suitable for families. While some of the audience warmed to the “striptease”, many of the other “adult moments” fell flat. Phallic jokes, cross-dressing, and similar juvenile humour received a mixed reception and sometimes detracted from otherwise incredible moments of spectacle.
Special mention needs to be given to a short “interval” moment that, while adding to the “story” of the show, was surely a welcome break for the main performers.
Mal Webb, the well-known comedy musician who has previously worked with Lano and Woodley, has written an incredible piece in the jazzy number “I got away with it”. It was performed via a small but expressive marionette controlled by the incredible puppeteer, David Spatt. Splatt was a grand finalist on Australia’s Got Talent, and was the first Australian artist in history to perform at both the International Mime and Physical Theatre Festival of the Caribbean and the annual International Mime Festival in Warsaw.
Splatt’s ability with the marionette is an incredible sight, though it was perhaps a little hard to fully appreciate for those in the back row. Combined with Webb’s song, the performance is something other-worldly.
Jokes that sometimes miss their mark don’t prevent the audience from enjoying slapstick funnier than the Keystone Cops and acrobatics that make jaws drop. Over the coming weeks, Dumtectives in Cirque Noir is sure to be the stand-out show for many audiences at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Dumtectives in Cirque Noir is running from 6th to 18th of April 2021, and tickets can be purchased via the Melbourne Arts Centre website.