hot summer nights

‘Hot Summer Nights!’ // Red Canvas Productions and Gasworks Arts Park

‘Hot Summer Nights!’ was thrilling.

Midsumma is both Melbourne’s premier queer arts organisation, and its annual and cultural event. As a reminder of how strange a time it has been for theatre in this city over the last couple of years, ‘Hot Summer Nights!’ had to be performed in the park outside the Gasworks Theatre in 2023. Sitting in a large, dark room with six multi-award-winning circus and cabaret performers and an appreciative audience for just over an hour was a welcome diversion from dwelling on those sorts of things.

Right off the bat, ‘Hot Summer Nights!’ starts serving up a visual and auditory feast. There is something for everyone’s taste (so long as they run to circus, cabaret or both). It kept plating up at the same pace, not leaving a moment where I had time to notice the time passing. The courses start with an all-cast choreographed dance to the eponymous song (‘Hot Summer Nights’), best known by rock band Night’s 1979 cover.

Vocal duties fall to the highly decorated cabaret artist Tash York, who has been described by the Advertiser as ‘the Queen of Australian cabaret comedy.’ York emcees the show, keeping the momentum going while set pieces are moved in and out between acts with both comedic banter and an improvisational audience interaction piece that she repeats three times throughout the show, which becomes more impressive with each repetition. I want to describe it, and won’t, to avoid ruining the surprise for those who intend to go, as I’d encourage you to. York has played sold-out shows at the Perth, Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringes and as she says in the introductory monologue, they’re here to entertain, and they do.

Each of the five other performers has two moments in the (sometimes literal) spotlight. Each is timed brilliantly with the musical accompaniment – I could not believe some of the things I saw these artists do, and I could even less believe that they were able to do it synchronised to a soundtrack.

It’s a matter of debate who first said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. After attempting this review, I feel somewhat the same about circus. Verbally describing the routines can’t convey the full effect, and the moments of shock as some of the acts build, such as the opening routine, where circus artist Bede Nash smilingly adds hula-hoop after hula-hoop to his routine until it reaches a point of disbelief.

Nash’s fellow graduate of the National Institute of Circus Arts, acrobat and model Tro Griffiths, dazzles on the aerial hoop and hanging straps, with one controlled drop in particular that steals the breath away. Melbourne based Ezra Mishka, a drag and burlesque performer, first takes the stage with routine based both on a Cyr wheel (a giant metal hula-hoop that you can roll around inside of) and a strip tease. Mishka’s second turn onstage, lip-syncing in a leather Catwoman suit, channels iconic memories of Michelle Pfeiffer’s alluring performance in the 1992 Tim Burton film.

After a sword swallowing routine, burlesque performer Jacqueline Furey returns at the climax of the show with a strip tease that culminates in a floor show with a battery powered angle grinder. Aleisha Manion, originally from New Zealand, rounds out the entertainment with turns on firesticks and dance trapeze.

‘Hot Summer Nights!’ is a thrilling hour and a bit of physical theatre, that does what is says on the box. If you think it’s the sort of thing that you’ll enjoy, then I can guarantee that you will.

‘Hot Summer Nights!’ performs until Saturday, 03 February 2024 at Gasworks Theatre. For more information visit their website.

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