Arts & Entertainment

REVIEW: Sydney Festival presents Retro Futurismus

Anni and Maude Davey. Photo: Prudence Upton

Touted as putting the “odd” into “space odyssey”, Retro Futurismus is a shape-shifting variety show that nods to the minimalistic future dreamed up in yesteryear as it explores a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland populated by robots, roaches, astronauts, aliens and the remaining dregs of the human race.

This vaudeville show doesn’t neatly fit into what we know to be cabaret, burlesque or circus. It’s many things at once: flitting between cute, sassy, kooky and unnerving – always artful and incredibly conceptual.

Finding its roots in 2015 at Melbourne’s artistic hub fortyfivedownstairs as a variety night featuring a rotating cast of guest performers, Retro Futurismus has finally emerged onto the Sydney stage in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent for Sydney Festival.

Masterminds Anni and Maude Davey kick off their hosting duties in gold jumpsuits and rubber heels, shoulder pads and hair reaching for the gods. They prove that outrageous fashion and performance are playthings not only reserved for male drag queens and women under 40.

Accompanied by the funky backing tracks of a Yamaha Portasound salvaged from the 80’s, their funky opening spoken-word breakdown sets the scene and pseudo-political tone of the evening.

The ensuing hour of acts featuring the full cast of collaborators – Gabi Barton, Anna Lumb, Teresa Blake and special guest Moses – is as diverse as it is bizarre: a giant cloud-like creature literally shits bricks, a roller-skating riot grrrl lets loose with bubble wrap, a giant pink star dances its way through the audience, a metallic worm does a sexy dance, giant cockroaches try to draw an intelligent response from the humans in the crowd, a bikini made of bricks is strangely empowering and a homeless-looking man performs some of the best aerial work I’ve ever seen.

This show is raw and tactile in sensation; no other show over the Festival has used the Spiegeltent so immersively, with characters emerging from different points, bobbing and weaving through the audience – astronauts even descend from the rafters!

Every performance in Retro Futurismus is fuelled by character and every performer appeared liberated by the unfiltered freedom of this independent production. The few acts involving full-frontal nudity were funnily enough the least sexualised of the bunch.

Retro Futurismus provides exactly the type of kitschy escapism we need in these present times of tech saturation and political madness. May its creators crash land on our city again soon and take us back to their planet. (AM)

Retro Futurismus played at Sydney Festival’s Meriton Festival Village Jan 24-29. 


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