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Zap Circus’ Circus Freak Show, on Valentine’s Day, turned Fringe World’s Circus Theatre into a gothic, visceral ballerina music box. Endless smoke machine puffs and sonic chanting brought the audience into the weird and wacky minds of Perth performers Rusty and Tarabelle. Stepping out in Harley Quinn-esque attire, the two set the tone. Describing the differences between stunts and tricks, they saw fit to “juxtapose the playful nature of circus”.

939337_origMake no mistake, a visceral circus and sideshow experience and NOT a magic show.The seceding hour bent the laws of physics, warped the mind, and twisted each audience member’s stomach. Rusty, sporting a bright, red mohawk, kicked off proceedings with machete juggling mayhem. The laid-back performer off-set opening-night nerves, launching into witty repartee and kooky puns. Walking over a terrified audience member, a blindfolded Rusty juggled three machetes with flawless precision.

Rusty and Tarabelle, switching from charming performers to ominous hosts, added to the alluring sideshow atmosphere and darkly slick sense of humour. Amped up by a thumping electronica/rock score, Tarabelle’s 10 LED-hula hoop routine highlighted the performer’s undeniable core strength and creativity. Rusty upped the ante, wowing many crowd members and disturbing others by hammering a nail into his nose. As it was pulled out by a concerned audience member, the artist’s pithy, risqué comments alleviated the tension.

Rusty and Tarabelle poked fun at their own thesis, weaving light-hearted tricks (balancing brooms, pretending to swallow balloons, making objects disappear etc.) with solid comic timing. The contortion routine showcased the pair’s extraordinary acrobatic skills and cooperation. Despite slight slip-ups, the two leaped on and over one another seamlessly. Tarabelle delivered the show’s standout routine, fitting the herself through a hoop and tennis racquet before bending over backwards into a glass box.

Circus Freak Show’s climax took the routine to new, unpredictable heights. Rusty, lowering his back into a vicious-looking bed of nails, waited tentatively as Tarabelle gained enough balance to stand on top of him. Covered in puncture wounds, Rusty sprung to his feet with a beaming smile for the show’s final act. Reiterating the stunts-are-100%-real mantra, the pair concluded their bewildering performance with an intensifying fire-eating routine.

Unphased by dangerous feats, the pair proved the difference between true stunt-work and magic. Circus Freak Show is a jaw-dropping, fascinating Fringe spectacular not for the faint-hearted.

Photo credit: Wayrehouse Photographics

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