Blending elements of musical theatre, burlesque, cabaret & acrobatics Circa’s Peepshow is a truly unique experience.
Sweeping into the Theatre Royal Sydney from April 20-23 this strictly limited season will see the hallowed Theatre Royal Sydney transformed. Peepshow will take audiences on a playfully exhilarating ride into the beautifully bizarre recesses of their collective minds.
Speaking to City Hub ahead of the opening night Associate Director and Costume Designer Libby McDonnell talked us through the creative process behind Circa’s Peepshow.
“When we made this show we were making it with a particular venue in Berlin in mind,” recalled Libby. “That venue is a beautiful, dark, wooden, red draped cabaret theatre where people come to have dinner and watch a contemporary circus show.”
It was this particular venue’s aesthetics and the Circa’s traditional acrobatic circus background that would then influence the direction Peepshow would take. Rather than sticking with their traditional acrobatic circus roots, the team at Circa wanted to incorporate elements of cabaret and burlesque into the show because that was the vibe of the venue in Berlin. Bearing that in mind the show began to develop in two halves according to Libby.
“The first half of the show sits in this kind of cabaret, burlesque world and then the second half of the show takes all that information; the generosity, the warmth and cracks it apart… I don’t want to give too much away but the second half of the show is closer to an ecstatic rave that is really, really different.
“You finish the first half of the show thinking ‘that was really fun and playful’. Then after the second half finishes, you’ll be thinking ‘gosh, I really want to go out and party at a dance club now.'”
Despite Libby’s description of the show being presented in two halves, she was quick to point out that the much-loved elements of burlesque and cabaret are woven throughout the show.
“The show’s two halves kind of mirror each other but throughout the entire performance you’ll see flashes of contemporary physical performance, cabaret, burlesque and an ensemble of acrobats alongside solo acts.”
Obviously with elements of burlesque woven throughout Circa’s Peepshow this show is certainly more catered to an adult audience. However, Libby points out that there is no full frontal nudity but rather more “playful teasing” as they allude to nudity.
“This show is more about playing and teasing as we toy with revealing and concealing the body,” explained Libby. “Circa’s Peepshow is like a classical statue of sorts in that it presents an interesting relationship with the body.”
As both the Associate Director and Costume Designer the visual aesthetics and the costumes, in particular, hold a special place in Libby’s heart. A fact Libby revealed when asked about her favourite act in the show.
“Asking that is like asking if you have a favourite child,” answered Libby before continuing, “you do, but you should say it out loud.”
“As the Costume Designer of the show, those elements are personal favourites. There is one costume in particular which is used during a ‘quick change’ act that is one of my favourites because it was a unique challenge to create.”
Designing a costume for a quick change act wasn’t the only challenge that Libby had to overcome for Circa’s Peepshow. Throughout her creative process, Libby couldn’t simply design visually beautiful costumes because they also had to be incredibly functional due to the acrobatic elements. This means that designing and creating these costumes was a long and painstaking process, which Libby said started back in 2018 but has continued to be refined ever since.
“I wanted the costumes in this show to speak to the cabaret and burlesque worlds. But I also knew that the performers had to have a level of comfort and trust in the costumes so that they could do things that are actually kind of dangerous and kind of extreme.
“The ability [for the costumes] to do what they technically need to be able to do was really important. So there’s a lot of technical effort that goes into what could be perceived as quite a simple design… Something as simple as a pair of shorts for example has so much technology and time put into them to ensure they don’t cut into the performers for example.”
As our conversation with Libby continued her passion for these costumes shone through, “This is such a boring detail unless you are a costume nerd like me but there are sequins that we use that are all individually sewn down flat so that there is minimal rubbing.” This was such an important step in the creation of the costumes because without it there would be “a lot of shredding on the skin” explained Libby.
In closing our conversation with Libby we asked who she sees as the ideal audience for this show.
“This show is designed for everybody. There is something for everyone; it’s fun, it’s playful, it’s sexy, it’s sophisticated. All of those things in conversation with each other make this a masterpiece of a show.”