Before Karma Gets Us

Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald

There’s a scuffle and a muffled muttering coming from behind the tacked up plush red velvet curtain. It seems there is some confusion as to whether we will be getting the show we paid for or an interpretation of Jack London’s White Fang performed by dogs. Thus the tone is set for the next hour’s entertainment, a peek behind the curtain of the mechanics of magic, illusion and theatre rendered in brush strokes broad as the stripes of the circus tent. A trio of Brechtian faced clowns bumble and stumble through their set in a pastiche of old world vaudeville carnival vignettes, laced with humour, style and grace.

We are treated to numerous card tricks with varying success; a synchronised swimming ballet; a botched operation in which, among other items, an improbable number of bottles of red wine are extracted from the prone patient; side shows, such as the two headed woman and the three legged woman with a beard; sharp shooting cowboys popping balloons and catching bullets between their teeth; some pretty sweet pop and locking; culminating in a slapstick gore fight scene in which eyeballs pop juicily and teeth are spat in a bloody mess on the floor for a dramatic bloodstained conclusion.

The skill here is not in the tricks themselves, though some of the feats of palmistry and concealment are genuinely impressive. Rather it is the method of delivery, the set up of tension between what can go wrong and what will go right, that is the value of the piece. The creators poke holes in convention, allowing the egos and the failings of the performers to drive the narrative. Despite its jaunty aesthetic, this is a thought-filled, theatrically sophisticated piece, with threads of symbol and meaning running throughout. An undercurrent of darkness flows through the work. With talk of personal responsibility, intentional direction of energy and the imminent demise of life as we know it casually tossed into the lighter dialogue, there’s more than a nod here to the principles of real magic, tangled up with the smoke and mirrors of pageantry.

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