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Review: Shanghai Mimi at Sydney Festival

By Laura Heuston

Shanghai Mimi is, to be brief, an absolute spectacle from start to finish. Upon entering the Riverside Theatre, you are immediately immersed in the world of the show with the sounds of 1930’s Shanghai bouncing off the walls. The set by Eugyeene Teh is minimal, but somehow does not appear to be so- the glittering metallic fringe curtain that adorns the back wall, huge Chinese lanterns, and Jenny Hector’s lighting gives you plenty to look at. This of course, is just a hint at what is to come.

Featuring the Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe, performers from five countries and seven languages, and a 1930’s Chinese jazz score (recreated from lost original recordings that were unearthed in a condemned Mumbai warehouse) which is sung in a seamless blend of Chinese and English, Artistic Director Moira Finucane’s club erupts onto the stage in a frenzy of colour, acrobatics and wonder. Shanghai Mimi (Sophie Koh) guides us through this dazzling world herself, as the lead singer and narrator, somehow managing to appear in a different, more spectacular dress for every song. Special mention must also go to Simon Abbe, who appears in almost every number as a dancer, singer, narrator, and as revealed at the conclusion, choreographer. The sheer amount this man accomplishes during the show seems to be perfectly natural once you witness the immense energy that he brings to every performance- he is almost impossible to stop watching.

However, if you are to glance away from Simon at some point (and fair enough if not) it would be to gape in wonder at the Qinghai Acrobatic Troupe. If I could take you through every routine I would, however I will restrict myself to the love story that is played out on black and red aerial silks. With the assistance of Toby Mak on flugelhorn, Sophie Koh’s ethereal voice transports you into the world of these lovers, who each transfix the audience with their strength, grace, and dismissal of gravity, before joining together on the silks to perform some of the most beautiful and intimate acrobatics I think many of us had ever seen. The audience was either applauding or holding their breath with anticipation, and if ever applause was forgotten it was because everyone was too stunned to move.

Finally, Finucane and Musical Director John McAll have delightfully done away with the idea that the band sits in the corner, attempting to be heard but not seen. These musicians are sparkling in gold and Toby Mak (trumpet) and Brennan Hamilton-Smith (clarinet/saxophones) emerge onto the stage frequently to wow us with their own virtuosity. McAll must be applauded for the slickness of his band and own performance, which is only appropriate given the music was the original inspiration for the show.

To summarise, I find myself hard-pressed to imagine someone who would not enjoy a night at Shanghai Mimi.

Running January 10-20 at Riverside Theatre for Sydney Festival.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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