Blanc de Blanc Encore - The Grand Electric (NSW)
Conceived and directed by Scott Maidment
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
The Grand Electric Sydney Weds 11 January 2023
What a way to start the theatrical year – from Amadeus at the Opera House on Tuesday, I tottered across town to the Grand Electric Theatre in Redfern on Wednesday to see Blanc de Blanc Encore. Two very different shows and venues, but both have set a very very high bar for Sydney theatre this year.
Blanc de Blanc Encore is your classic vaudeville format – a rapid fire run of comedy, song, dance, aerobatics and circus. This troupe, however, have taken it to dizzying heights of skill, style, opulence and gorgeousness. Also it is just great fun! The show is built around the ‘champagne’ theme which they use to great effect – we now have a fair idea of just how many songs of the last century were written about booze – a lot!
The Grand Electric (the ex-Giant Dwarf theatre) is an old trades-hall building with a long theatrical history, and it’s been jazzed up with a lick of paint and some interior improvements; it was wonderful to be back there.
Photos by Carly Sare
The lighting and set design by Philip Gladwell made best use of the space, with multi-levels and a thrust stage for maximum audience participation, Hollywood-strength spotlights, and a fantastic backdrop that made for razor-sharp silhouettes. The visuals were just stunning. This venue had surprisingly good acoustics too, immersing the audience in an amazing range of music from classical to Piaf to Beyonce.
Did I mention the skill of the performers? Whether it was risqué cancan in stilettos, striptease, slapstick, vamping, the pole or aerial rings, they were absolutely top notch professionals. They did not miss a beat and their delivery is sharp, precise and seamless. The range of styles they could deliver – and deliver perfectly – was breathtaking. James Browne’s costumes were sexy, gorgeous and highly flexible, perfectly suited to the lithe, toned and shapely performers who were just a joy to watch as they made the impossible look effortless.
Kevin Maher’s choreography was versatile, cheeky and perfectly suited to each song, whether it be a torch song or Scissor Sisters – the dance of the French maids (including one male!) to 'Filthy' was particularly fantastic! The couple who executed the final routine in the giant ring hanging over our heads delivered a performance that was as skilful and complex as any ballet of Romeo and Juliet, and just as moving.
In between the songs, dance and circus, Remi and Felix provided the comedy – the French grandsons of Benny Hill and Phyllis Diller, whose uncles might be Jacques Tati, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. With their outrageous French accents, they gave cringe-worthy schtick a new lease on life. Just when we were wondering why comedians would have such buffed torsos, it turned out they were also part of the final aerial act on the floor to ceiling pole, displaying amazing strength and derring-do.
Indeed all the performers were multiskilled and versatile, and just so damned talented – how do you lie back and balance two parasols on one foot while spinning three flags on your other limbs, and look absolutely gorgeous while doing so? Bravo to Caitlin Tomson-Moylan, Charles-Éric Bouchard, Félix Pouliot, Joe DeSoto, Melanie Hawkins, Mirko Köckenberger, Remi Martin Lenz, Skylar Benton, Spencer Craig, Tuedon Ariri, Emile Mathieu and Emma Philips.
I see in the credits there is a “Magic Consultant” called Richard Pinner. Whatever he did, the crew certainly got full value out of him. Together they wove a glittery feathery net around the audience that held us in thrall. This show casts a spell over the audience and transports us away from the mundane for a couple of hours to a glorious, glamorous world from which I did not want to return. You should let them take you there too.