Cabaret is perhaps the trickiest of all theatrical artforms to experience as an audience member. Not because it's complex or confronting, but because it rarely changes from show to show. Whereas most plays or concerts or ballets tend to offer something new, cabaret usually feels like a grab-bag of the same set pieces – whether its dance, acrobatics, or aerial stunts – arranged with slight differentiation.
It's been a year since the Victorian Spiegeltent dominated Aotea Square as part of the Auckland Arts Festival, and once again a cabaret show has set up residence, with Limbo Unhinged, by Strut and Fret, the chosen ones this year. With a grungier aesthetic than last year's Blanc de Blanc, on the surface Limbo appears to offer a more punk-rock show than your typical French-inspired cabaret.
Limbo definitely leans into the more frightening elements of cabaret; this is the type of show where you're expecting a bone to shatter or an artist to fly into the crowd at any moment. The globally-sourced performers each have their own sparkle; there's sexy sword swallowing, comedic tap dancing and pole dancing stunts that put Jennifer Lopez to shame.
Yet, despite a very leather-clad wardrobe mixed in with instruments and a stage stolen from your local pub, the punk attitude only occasionally rears its head. The main stunt work and set pieces are impressive but brief, interspersed with lengthier interludes that feel tonally off with the show's aesthetic.
It's the sort of cabaret show that will undoubtedly impress first-time audience members but those who have seen such a show before always want more. And the problem with Limbo is that it doesn't quite deliver on the shock or spectacle. There's gasp-inducing fire breathing, but that's not a show- stopper. One of the final set pieces involving stilts seems intended as the climactic moment, yet when the show doesnn't end there, the final moments are spent waiting for that next big spectacle that never comes.
Death-defying stunts aren't for every company, and Limbo makes the most of displaying a number of impressive skills that are a pleasure to watch. Yet a lack of storyline or cohesion between the various elements doesn't highlight those moments to their full effect, making for an averagely enjoyable evening that doesn't soar to the heights it should have.
What: Limbo Unhinged
Where & when: Spiegeltent, Auckland Arts Festival until Sunday, March 29
Reviewer: Ethan Stills