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AN UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT OF THEATRE

Print Version
Photo: Jason Larraman
Photo: Jason Larraman
HANUSSEN THE PALACE OF BURLESQUE
Joe Bennett writer
Mike Friend director
Produced by Darryl Cribb
The Loons Circus Theatre Company design and choreography

at Theatre Royal, Nelson
From 10 Feb 2012 to 18 Feb 2012

Reviewed by Gail Tresidder, 13 Feb 2012


This production sparkles and fizzes.  Neatly held together by the fascinating true story of showman extraordinaire, Erik Jan Hanussen, the brilliant ensemble acting, skilful circus acts and singing and dancing of the finest quality, make a performance unlike anything I have ever seen.

Attention to detail, exemplified by the stage set designed with different levels for maximum impact, in itself a work of art, is apparent throughout. Gilt covered ivy leaves wreathe the apron stage, on either side of which are art deco blue lamps, their bases shapely gilt covered female legs.  There is a faux fur covered chaise longue, back-projection of smackaroo lips, silver reflecting ballroom globes and a clever piece of gear that comes down from the roof, turns in to a bed, and a film screen and also, when required, covers the large trap door .

The front section of the stalls, converted into a cabaret setting, adds to the atmosphere, as do the drifting smoke and the recorded pre-performance music from the 30s. This morphs seamlessly to the live sounds of the four piece band, led by the talented Carmel Courtney, looking splendid in her black hat and fishnet stockings, often demonstrating her musical skill by playing two saxophones simultaneously. She is supported by A J Hickling on percussion, James Wilkinson with bass and guitar and Michael Watt on keyboard, all three smooth and sassy and singing back-up vocals with relish.

A shattering intro – searchlights, sirens, sounds of bombs falling – startles the audience and primes them for the show.  Congratulations to Mike Friend, Brian Rick and Joel Vining for the sound and lighting.

Costumes are also spectacular – Skye Broberg's beautiful gold cape transforming her in to a gorgeous butterfly prior to her aerial acrobatics on silk while Sophie Ewart, for me the superstar of the evening, is dressed to kill in satin corset, black hat, green wig and high heels.

Ewert's tender version of Noel Coward's ‘I'll See You Again', sung against a film of people fleeing pre-war Germany and Hanusenn farewelling his pregnant lover, leaving for Paris, is deeply touching and her version of the flamenco, one of precise timing and sexiness.

Pascal Ackermann, fire eating acrobat, rider of unicycles, and – as a drag queen – performer of the most risqué strip of the evening, is a rock throughout. This sequence, late in the show, more than anything, portrays the decadence of theBerlinnight life at the time, whereas Nele and Jola Siezen give us, in silhouette behind a translucent curtain, the most tasteful and beautifully synchronised double strip imaginable.

Hanussen died in 1933 having pushed his luck on the stage once too often.  In a supposed trance, he foresaw the burning down of an important city building inBerlin.  Next day, the Reichstag went up in flames and for his likely inside information, Hanussen was shot by Hitler's secret agents.  David Ladderman tells Hanussen's story, Tom Trevella plays the man himself. Both are convincing and involved throughout.

This is an unforgettable night of theatre.

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 Vanessa Byrnes