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Circus in the underworld

Felicity Nelson saw the latest SURCAS production.


Are the halls of Hades really the place for a circus? I was asking myself that question when I went to watch a rehearsal of Orpheus, a production put on by Sydney University’s very own circus society (SURCAS). After having a sneak-peek, I have to say my narrow conception of circus theatre has flipped upside-down for good.

This show does more than show off the talents of students who should have run away to the circus long ago; it effortlessly weaves circus art into the ancient story of Orpheus and Eurydice and lifts traditional circus well out of its jolly comfort-zone. It is a dark production, often quite scary, that reinterprets an old Greek myth in an unusual but compelling way.

Like some sort of ballet for stunt people, this show expresses character through a variety of mesmerising tricks. A trio of jugglers morph into Cerberus (the three-headed dog). A rope dart artist whips and curls his rope in likeness of the snake that kills Orpheus’ wife. The audience is led into the underworld by a set of aerial dancers twirling around silks suspended from the ceiling.

This show is the most ambitious and dangerous piece of theatre you’re likely to see on campus. It includes aerial stunts, acrobatics and feats of coordination, balance and flexibility that will make your jaw drop. The director and writer, Sarah Whillier, spent three years writing and planning this show. Part of the score is entirely original music composed by Olga Solar from the Con.

The venue is hard to miss: it’s a giant tent that will be sitting on the lawns outside the Quad next week. Even if you don’t go see the show, keep an eye out for fire twirling outside the Big Top before each performance.

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