‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’ was magnifique.
Strut and Fret, in association with Brisbane Festival, return to Meanjin with their smash hit show ‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’. With a star-studded international cast and immersive production design, audiences are in for an absolute treat with this Gatsby-inspired production.
When you step into the Spiegeltent of ‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’, you step foot into another world. Mirrors line the walls, the peaked tent creates a space that seems deceptively large, and smoke haze makes you feel like you’ve walked onto a movie set. But this theatre space wasn’t the only immersive experience provided: the smaller Spiegeltent invited people in for a drink while an old-school ferris wheel spun and hot donuts and chips were served out of a small food truck. Even the ushers adopted French accents as they welcomed you into the space. Creator and director, Scott Maidment spared no detail in making ‘Blanc De Blanc Encore’ a wholly immersive and fantastical experience.
‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’ was a cabaret of epic proportions. From every sequin, lighting cue, jaw dropping acrobatic moment, flawless singing run and scripted gag, the show was slick, sexy and tres magnifique. Theatre is all about creating shapes. Shaping a narrative, a mood and creating shapes with people and characters. What makes ‘Blanc De Blanc Encore’ such a standout production is that Maidment, in collaboration with a team of incredible creatives and cast, worked every element of theatre together to create clean, emotive and beautiful shapes. There was a considered ebb and flow to the whole production, which allowed audiences to take in the incredible moments created by the cast before moving to the next creation.
Lighting design by Philip Gladwell and operation by Ben Neucom worked in perfect synergy with the acts on stage. As the performance occurred on all sides of the space, directional and precise lighting cues were instrumental in directing the audience’s attention. A particularly effective moment was when the entire cast was in the space and swiftly changed between songs and spoken dialogue. The lighting ricocheted around the tent and landed on the performer who was delivering the dialogue, and sometimes that performer was standing directly behind an audience member’s chair. Because the space was on a thrust stage, the rigging was all around rather than being locked into a proscenium space. The performers would have amazed in any setting, however the theatricality and magic of the evening came with Gladwell’s design.
Set design, also by Gladwell, gave performers an incredible amount of space and levels to play with. The set featured curved surfaces and circles, with organic shapes and soft lines used throughout the production. The back wall was a series of cut out circles that changed colour with the lighting cues. This section was also the primary entrance/exit of the stage and created some of the most powerful silhouettes in the production.
‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’ was set in the Gatsby era and costume design by James Browne was instrumental in cementing this time period. Costumes were of a limited but effective colour palette including gold, silver, black and white, with occasional splashes of pop colour for specific effect. While raunchy, every costume element brought its own level of class to the production and was made to enhance the artistry of the cast. Without the costuming, the polish and wow-factor of this production would not be nearly as effective.
While each artist was given their own solo moment to shine, the power of the collective was a particular highlight in the production. Choreography by Kevin Maher worked to the artists’ talents and provided dynamic, sharp and alluring movement that bookended each act.
Despite the seamless artistic direction, choreography, costuming and production design, the absolute heroes of the production were the internationally curated cast. Each a master in their field, every single member of the ensemble brought incredible talent and energy to the stage, making ‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’ a must see on the Brisbane Festival calendar.
Hosts for the evening, Emile Mathieu and Joe DeSoto were the glue of the production and provided significant contrast to the mood and style of the rest of the show. Initially quite surprising, it didn’t take long for the performance to settle into an energised rhythm. Sensual burlesque and jaw dropping aerial work was bookended by witty banter and slapstick style comedy from this dynamic duo. Mathieu and DeSoto utilised fairly traditional comedy styles and broke tension with dazzling effectiveness. A talented clowning professional from America, DeSoto delivered a wildly hilarious solo number where he combined disjointed sounds and movements to create a dynamic routine, which had the audience in stitches.
Aerialists Charles Eric, Spencer Craig and Caitlin Marion left the audience’s jaws on the ground. The intimate space of the Spiegeltent allowed for their routines to extend beyond the stage and on top of the audience. At times the performers were within centimeters of the audience’s heads, creating a circus performance that sucked viewers in and left them in awe of the talent in the air.
Vocalists and dancers, Rechelle Mansour and Melanie Hawkins, were captivating in their respective performances. Mansour used her voice with incredible skill, showing off not only her silky tone but embracing the performative element of her songs. Hawkins delivered a flawless vocal performance and also showed off her comedic timing in a rather imaginative dance to a classical piece which you will have to see for yourself.
One of the only Western performers to perform the Chinese art of foot juggling, Emma Phillips was an unexpected highlight of ‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’. Usually a fairly traditional artform, this production brought a burlesque edge to the uncommon circus skill and kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
Last, but not at all least, Los Angeles burlesque performer Skylar Benton was captivating to watch. No movement was wasted and every step held tension and sultry energy.
‘Blanc De Blanc Encore’ is not the type of show that comes around often. Wholly immersive, classy and impressive, it’s a night out with the adults that will leave you wanting more. As the announcement said at the beginning of the show, “there is no need to have your phones out to film this, because you will remember it for the rest of your life”. A brave statement to make, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true for many people in the audience.
It is rare for audiences to see a show that oozes incredible artistry and a considered and immersive design. Everyone with a love of burlesque must book a ticket to see ‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’, as it’s a night out you won’t forget.
‘Blanc de Blanc Encore’ performs until Sunday, 18 September 2022 at Northshore Brisbane. For more information visit the Brisbane Festival website.