‘Assume People Like You’ was mind-bending.
“Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.”
A quote from Misty Copeland that rings so true for so many, as it doesn’t matter whether it is friends, family, loved ones, or a business or supporting partner – having a connected group of people in your life brings meaning, value, and joy.
It was almost 12 months ago to the day that Thomas Stewart (also known as Melon the Human) came bursting onto the Brisbane circus scene with his first ever one-man-show, Robot Dance Circus, at the Anywhere Festival. It was here that a partnership was formed with the team at Cluster Arts and Stewart’s second show started coming to life. Based on a similar concept, ‘Assume People Like You’ explores the challenges we face in forming friendships and meaningful connections as adults. Gone are the days when you could just make eye contact with another kid on the playground and make a new best friend for life; no, things as an adult are much, much harder.
Stewart is an extensively talented circus performer who, in a pre-COVID world, travelled the globe with Cirque du Soleil in shows across Europe, the UK and Australia. While his speciality lies in object manipulation and unique forms of juggling, his greatest strength is his awkward, dry wit that leaves you laughing for reasons you don’t fully understand.
The show unofficially opens about five minutes early with Stewart taking to the stage, putting in a pair of headphones and doing a little stationary dance that can only be described as a 10th grader’s first-ever high school dance, as the remaining patrons filtered through the doors. While it is such a simple concept and shouldn’t have been as funny as what it was, there is just something about Stewart that instils an innate desire to laugh.
The show officially kicks off with what I am dubbing a Stewart-staple act of object manipulation of two figure-eight rings through his fingers, a routine that touted the question from a fellow audience member after the show, “Surely, he must have at least eight fingers to do that?” The control Stewart demonstrates over his body and his ability to move objects around his fingers in liquid fluidity is unparalleled to anything you see at a typical circus.
His act continues with gravity-defying movements of objects around his body, demonstrating unbelievable precision and skill with each and every one. From juggling and spinning a broom around his body, to dancing a light-up diabolo around the stage and utilising string to manipulate an LED stick, the show had a little bit of something for everybody.
Each act was stitched together under the story arc of Stewart’s character, Melon the Human, in his desire to make friends. At an early stage in the show, Stewart throws a blanket across the stage and takes a seat with his picnic basket, waiting for someone to join him – but no one does. Elevated by the slow and sad music that played in the background, you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. With music interludes guiding Melon on his journey to make friends, we see him attempt different techniques to engage with the audience and find this life-long companion he has so desperately been searching for.
The absolute highlight of the show came about halfway through when Stewart took a quick break from his circus performance to sell ice creams to the audience. At first everyone thought it was a joke, but after a little prompting it didn’t take long for the one-dollar Magnums to sell like hotcakes – to a point where willing patrons missed out. He had a spare though – and this one was free. He laid out his little picnic blanket again and delicately placed the last remaining Magnum at one end, for anyone to come and claim and eat with him.
Stewart is a brilliant storyteller and his unique intertwining of circus performance with this character of a part robot, part alien, part human hybrid creates an engaging and memorable show that is the best combination of talent and humour. His character is intentionally awkward and his humour quite dry, but you cannot help but laugh at every moment. Even the simplest of elements, like finishing the show and then just staying on stage, silent, while everyone in the audience just giggled awkwardly like, “Are we meant to go now?” were brilliantly executed.
‘Assume People Like You’ had a very similar feel to Stewart’s previous show in terms of the circus skills he demonstrated, but with the new backing from Cluster Arts, it is easy to see that he has spent a lot of time perfecting his storytelling. With that in the bag now, I would love to see Stewart explore new acts and routines to continue demonstrating the depth of his performance.
It’s a shame the show has now closed as part of Brisbane’s CIRCfest Meanjin, but I cannot recommend highly enough to keep an eye out for future performances of Thomas Stewart’s Melon the Human, because it’s a night you will not forget.
For more information about Thomas Stewart’s upcoming shows, visit Melon the Human website.