Carnival Of Mysteries Review

Finucane and Smith’s Carnival of Mysteries, part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, is a great concept … on paper.

Take your audience into the bowels of fortyfivedownstairs in Flinders Lane and for a couple of hours, transport them into another time and place. This is the world of the sideshow alley with acts as varied as a clairvoyant, The Living Radio who sings songs from decades gone, dancers with over-sized hair wigs, a jazz singer, magic acts and storytellers.

The space was faithfully transformed into curtained tents of all shapes and sizes where acts would occur at regular intervals. Pokey as some of them were, many of these tiny venues added atmosphere to the occasion, as the audience squeezed in to see what the next tent would produce? The signage on every wall was historical and nostalgic, akin to many old signs on the sides of buildings around Melbourne. For a short while one was taken away into another world, completely forgetting where you were.

Several of the acts, however, lacked polish. Granted, it was largely supposed to be a night of fun and entertainment, but at times it was difficult to tell whether a particular act was ridiculing itself from the outset or whether it just wasn’t as good as it should be? There was a sense of uneasiness as comic moments weren’t that funny, while acts like The Living Radio and The Library simply weren’t that interesting.

Given “Carnival Cash” at point of entry meant that everyone in the audience could purchase a ticket to an act of their choice during the show. With only $30,000 to spend, if you were quick you may run out of money before the end. However, the opposite is more likely to occur, as there are too many acts for the time allowed, resulting in left-over cash. The problem, however, was more to do with acts coming and going out of various tents, constantly changing location with performers doubling up with other acts elsewhere. Too bad if you wanted to see the clairvoyant for instance, as her show finished before you could blink, only doing her act once. While on the one level it was interesting to watch the dynamics of strangers in the house giving advice to others about the quality of the act they just witnessed, it also left the door open for some to wander about missing several acts in a row. While a large central area allowed for the entire audience to view certain performances as a whole group, for most of the night everyone’s experiences were different.

But the Carnival of Mysteries lacked purpose and intent. If there was a unifying statement to be made, then I certainly missed it. Although I am confident the acts were meticulously planned and chosen with care, it appeared like they were simply a random collection of “who can do what?”. Consistency in talent and skill among the performers also varied considerably. Nothing in the show was the anticipated “weird and wonderful” and the event was so tame, apart from the odd bare breast nothing offended either. Without shock value, the Carnival of Mysteries became a pedestrian affair.

If you’re not too fussed and just want a good night out with friends, the Carnival of Mysteries should entertain. But if you are the more astute theatre goer you may leave a little disappointed, as this show could have been so much more, with the pre-hype in various print and Internet media outlets more interesting than the show, itself.

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1 Response

  1. Leilani Hannah says:

    I’m relieved to read Justin’s review. There has been so much positive stuff written about this show, that I was beginning to wonder if I had been to the right thing.
    The show is a great concept, but it falls well short of delivering what it promises. The acts are simply not good enough, bordering on amateurish. The different “theatres” (cubicles) are separated by a curtain and the noise bleeds from each to the other so that you cannot really hear some of the acts even when they are in a tiny space. There is much confusion over what is where and when you can see different things. Basically we missed out on many things because they were full by the time we worked out where things were. We had quite a lot of money left over and still had only been into 3 things, and wanted to try more, but time was up.
    I was pretty disappointed.

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