Performance Art Kardiãvale: clowning with tragedy

Kardiãvale: clowning with tragedy

Freak shows ended about 50 years ago, due to public outcry against the display of people with physical deformities and abnormalities. However, as the full house for the opening of Kardiãvale showed, people are still fascinated by the aberrant and unusual.

Rob Murray is almost unrecognisable as a Svengalian hokey impresario who runs a freak show called “Oskar’s Oddities”. Murray adopts a gravelly tone reminiscent of Tom Waits, rendering the slick, greasy demeanour of an oil salesman.

Oskar is desperately searching for a freak to display in his travelling sideshow, and he finds the perfect candidate in Onni, played by Liezl de Kock. Born with her heart outside of her body, Onni is a sweet but forlorn ingénue who has suffered a lifetime of rejection. She longs for love and acceptance, and believes that she has finally found it in Oskar, until the narrative plunges down a somewhat darker turn.

This production contains an endearing combination of pathos and comedy, which guides its audience steadily from an initially uproarious burlesque theme to a more sinister place.

Murray and de Kock are two of the principle performers in From the Hip, whose production Benchmarks finally landed them a well-deserved slot on the Main this year. In Kardiãvale the two performers get a chance to speak, something they haven’t been able to do in any of their previous From the Hip productions.

From the Hip have made a name for themselves as mime and masked artists who work with hearing impaired actors, and the particular style of storytelling they’ve developed doesn’t use dialogue. But in Kardiãvale this deficit is more than made up for with speaking and singing both part of the performance.

The voice work of both Murray and De Kock is exceptional, from nuanced utterances, coughs and squawks, to belted-out blues. They’re backed up by an inventive sound score created by Brydon Bolton and Gustavo Fasaniand and performed by Shaun Acker and Natalie Mason. The tunes range from parody riffs of popular jingles jammed together into bizarre medleys, to slower, more solid and nostalgic numbers which carry a hint of melancholy.

Even if you don’t suffer from Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, there are moments when Murray will have you cringing. The contrast between his malevolence and Onni’s innocence drives heart-rending emotion through the centre of this well-crafted narrative, which deals poignantly with the themes of vulnerability and power.

It’s a somewhat burlesque tragi-comedy, more Tiger Lillies than Lili Marlene, which lives up to its billing as a “cabaret noir spectacle”.

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