By Taylor Kendal
The Melbourne Fringe Festival has been home to some rather outrageous, eccentric, and downright saucy performances over the years. This latest gift from Melbourne-based acrobatic group Head First Acrobats is certainly no exception. With a name like ‘Railed’ it is a little hard to try and pinpoint your expectations about what you’re going to witness at a show such as this. Promoted as a ‘Western-themed Circus Spectacular, combining trademark physical talents, finely chiseled bodies and impeccable comic timing’, this show lives up to the promise, and certainly does not disappoint.
Housed in the stylish and immersive world of the Wonderland Spiegeltent, where bohemian extravagance meets the sultry vaudevillian-esque underworld of theatre, Railed is an experience that must be seen to believed. In this humble reviewer’s opinion, it can be summed up as the Wild West-meets Cirque du Soleil-meets Magic Mike, with so many levels in between. An interesting concept, I know.
The brainchild of Head First Acrobats, an independently produced group of incredibly talented performers behind last year’s smash Elixir, Railed brings together a buzzing, smoky atmosphere, in a setting much like the circus rings of old, though dressed up like an old western saloon. The two worlds collide in a spectacular fashion thanks to Cal Harris, Harley Timmermans, Adam McMahon and AJ Saltalamacchia; four men riding hobby horses, that come shouting and whooping for joy as the ‘Head First Gang’ brings their haul to their hide away, before a shootout and gunfight done with such entertaining precision and authenticity by sound and visual effect. What follows is both comedic brilliance, gravity defying amazement that is quite frankly rather easy on the eyes.
The Head First boys waste no time in getting down to business, showing off their skills in the fine and skilled art of acrobatics, quite literally throwing themselves around the stage, spilling and spitting ‘booze’ over the audience, and showing off their cheeky side while interacting with the audience. Not to mention a spectacularly choreographed fight scene that had the audience in stitches. Each performer had an incredible charisma and mesmerizing way about them that was incredibly captivating, hooking the audience in right from the start. The way that these performers are able to showcase not only incredible balance and strength, but also the concentration and discipline needed for these incredibly dangerous acts is a feat in itself that needs to not only be recognized but applauded.
Being totally honest here, I was having a hard time finding myself taking notes, unable to look away for more than a few seconds, not wanting to miss a moment of what was happening around me. Feats of incredible physical strength and dedication, with circus elements such as sleight of hand, juggling, and a card trick that just didn’t seem to go the way it was intended. It also made it rather difficult to put into words just what I was watching, and even now it is hard to explain just how remarkable these acts were to witness then and there.
In addition to being an incredibly strong and cohesive team, each performer brought their own skills and talents to the show. Harley Timmerman’s gravity defying performance with the Cyr Wheel was captivating in every sense of the word, showing such muscle strength and determined focus.
Cal Harris, armed with an industrial sized ladder, throws all sense of logic to the wind as he performs with literal leaps and bounds on the apparatus, sliding down and jumping between the rungs, as well as a rather incredible feat of balancing it on his head. Matched with his boyish grin and charm, he is a true commander of the audience’s attention, particularly while managing a handstand atop five balancing – and slightly rocking- chairs.
Adam McMahon dazzles with his attempt (and failure) of ‘is this your card?’, as well as a rather sensual display using a diabolo prop, which both baffles and amazes me even now. His performance as the ‘horse’ is also a sidesplitting spectacle that needs to be witnessed, rather than put into words
AJ Saltalamacchia has a rich and wonderful talent for comedic timing, pairing it with a dexterity and ability to not only bring the audience to fits of laughter with his physical comedy as well as his skills as an acrobat and overall performer.
Overall, Railed is truly an original, wild and crazy adventure, combining the best elements of bohemian theatre, the unhinged and entertaining spirit of circus performance, and a troupe who are not only incredibly, unbelievably talented, but have a clear love and passion for their craft and what they do, and love the opportunity to share it with others. Support local theatre and come on down to the Wonderland Spiegeltent and witness the magic for yourself!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.