Dunedin Gasworks Museum, Dunedin

28/10/2016 - 30/10/2016

Production Details

Brophy Aerials is performing an aerial Alice Circus, celebrating 150 yrs of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, as part of the Powerhouse Festival.

Gasworks Museum, Dunedin
28th 29th and 30th October 2016

Theatre , Cirque-aerial-theatre ,

A winning combination

Review by Terry MacTavish 01st Nov 2016

“Curiouser and curiouser!” In Alice’s dreamworld, rules don’t apply, either for grammar or gravity, which makes it perfect for the craziness of circus. Brophy Aerials have seized on Alice in the 150th year since she went public, adorned her in gorgeous Steampunk gear, and tossed her aloft in our own darkly dangerous Victorian gasworks for this most charmingly curious of Spectaculars.

There can’t be many cities that offer the exciting performance spaces Dunedin does. Hard on the heels of The Skriker, staged in the creepy Athenaeum underground, comes Circus Alice, performed in the stunning setting of the Gasworks Museum, as part of the Southern Heritage Trust’s 2016 Powerhouse Festival. The museum boasts international standing as the world’s best historical town gasworks, and provides a thrilling background of gleaming, pulsating machines.

Director Jonathan Cweorth has powered up the original steam machinery with a hiss and a roar for previous productions, notably Mr Faust and Dr Jabberwocky in 2013, demonstrating how brilliantly the museum sets off the Victorian taste for the macabre as well as contemporary Steampunk fashion.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice, with its nonsense humour undercut by a sinister suggestion of forbidden sexuality, seems even better suited to the venue, especially these fascinatingly apt scenes from both Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Cweorth has chosen to explore, brilliantly brought to life by choreographers Rochelle Brophy and Emma Holloway.

The sell-out crowd gathers, nervous and excited in the crisp evening air, admiring stilt-walker Mary Locker. Stylish guides in deliberately anachronistic Steampunk garb lead us through the precinct where intriguingly costumed chess pieces perform an elegant, measured quadrille.  Enter the bustling White Rabbit, most delightfully portrayed by Rochelle Brophy, who manages to be both comical and commanding, and of course we follow him eagerly. We find ourselves in the flame-lit furnace room where the Rabbit spins hypnotically on silks, watching as a bored Alice tosses aside her books.

Played winsomely by Silkie Alliot, Alice is definitely more adolescent than child, with pouting red mouth and crinkly blond hair, flashing striped stockings and frilled pantaloons.  Impatiently she fends off a trio of importunate suitors, including one Rev Charles Dodgson, and escapes by pursuing the Rabbit’s tantalising fluffy tail up a tall ladder to disappear through a neat, round hole.

Dashing outside we witness her meeting with an unbelievably supple caterpillar (Regina Hegemann) uncoiling from its white silk cocoon. Refusing to spend her life dreaming in a cocoon, Alice is once more rescued by the White Rabbit, and finds herself at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

The music throughout has been well chosen, from ‘Chess in Concert’ to Kasey Chambers, but ‘Something in the Water’ is particularly appropriate for an irresistibly fast-paced and beguiling dance number by the Mad Hatter (Craig Storey), March Hare (Kendall Brook), and three Dormice at the crazy tea party.

Alice’s next adventure is more frightening, described as ‘domestic delight’ with the scary Duchess (Jenny Knewstead) and Mad Maid (Harriet Koch) threatening Alice as they cavort between furiously pumping machinery and a wall hung with babies in cocoon-like slings: the joys of motherhood?? It is a relief to be outside again, with stars now pricking the clear sky, even though we are standing within the Stonehenge-like circle of tall columns as if participating in some primitive ritual.

And that is what it appears to be. Alice is challenged to choose her destiny by the ferociously elegant Queen of Hearts, danced imperiously by Cadyne Geary.  All the aerial artists now have the space and height to show what they can do on the hanging silks or the hoop of the lira, and it is truly impressive and not a little alarming to watch them so high above the earth, reeling and writhing and fainting in coils – well not fainting, thankfully, but you get the idea – spinning, twisting, diving, even balancing each other, and all the while extending their lithe limbs in heartbreakingly lovely poses. I’m not the only one feeling a trifle giddy as the show reaches its spectacular climax. 

The audience are clearly enraptured with Circus Alice. It is a winning combination: the amazing Gasworks Museum so beautifully managed by Ann Barsby and her team, the unique imagination of talented Jonathan Cweorth, and the artistry of the performers. Brophy’s Aerial Studio dancers are sheer delight, extraordinarily flexible, skilled and admirably courageous in their aerial work.  Brophy herself is undoubtedly a multi-talented asset to the city: studio director, costume creator, innovative choreographer and star performer as well.  

“Impossible? Nonsense! Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”  


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