SIMON WALKER: That’s Life archive
THERE is risk any time you perform live. Look at Tony Abbott when he gets in front of camera. Or Madonna at the 2015 Brit Awards. Very uncomfortable.
But when you go see a live show like Absinthe, the “adult European circus”, currently wowing crowds at Wheeler Place in the Spiegelworld Tent, the danger is palpable.
Not just from the thrills, chills and fear of spills, but also that worst nightmare for any timid member of the public, audience participation.
Because yes there are amazing acrobatics, freakish balancing acts, feats of strength and much much more, all performed within metres of the crowd, where any slip-up could see you wearing a jean-clad Adonis in your lap.
And being burlesque, deep down you know you want this, according to crass empresario of the show, the Gazillionaire, and his sidekick Penny.
But deeper down you know that at some stage in the night, someone is going to get called up for a few ribald fun and games with seasoned comic carve-up artists who’ve cut their chops in Vegas.
That’s what happened at the last Speigelworld show we saw and it had been bloody brilliant. Ruthless, but brilliant. Mainly because it happened to someone else. If it happened to you, well, that’s Room 101 material.
Such was the discussion in our circle going in this year. We hoped we didn’t get seated in the front row where the victims seem to get plucked.
Last year a couple of friends had found themselves on the end of a pretty entertaining ongoing gag involving bananas and the suggestion of genitalia.
Post match, our friends had told us that as a result they’d found it reasonably hard to relax through the show. And we’d got that, because they had squirmed a lot, with a smile of dread pasted on their face looking like they wished they were invisible, which they obviously weren’t because they kept coming back to them.
This time round the fear and anticipation were back. We were looking forward to the show, but living on the edge with that titillated element of audience-participation danger only non-theatrical types with freebies from a PR company can muster.
Circus-cabaret people can sense Muggles and their deep-seated inhibitions.
They have special powers and chiselled physiques and walk funny on stage.
Worst of all, we worried they have minions connected with PR companies taking notes before the show to identify the ripest victims.
I had prepared mentally that if called up I would make like my cat when I put her in the garage at night. I would surrender all muscle, sinew and dignity like a jellyfish and do whatever was required of me.
I was hoping it wasn’t nudity, but of course admitting as much would confirm to most psychologists, and certainly Gazillionaire, that subconsciously, that is truly what I hoped for.
But let me say this for the record, audience participation of any kind, nude or otherwise, is never what I desire, unless it’s performing in a Mexican wave with 90,000 other anonymities, or winning a raffle.
And this was a lottery I’d prefer to avoid because I am not Frank N Furter, I am a humble time warp of mixed emotions that prefers to cradle itself late at night, alone, unobserved, with his cat.
So it didn’t settle the nerves when a lady dressed as a fairy came up to me before the show and, oblivious to the 200-odd other people in the bar, said: “The show is about to begin, you may enter the tent.”
In a flash I found myself thinking did she mean “you”, “the sacrificial lamb”, “may enter the abattoir”?
Lucky they serve drinks inside the magnificent Spiegelworld Tent because I was getting a bad case of the Brad and Janets. Damnit. It wasn’t helped when we were seated, not in the front row, but close enough to not rule out being dragged up. I really needed a drink then.
When I got back with the refreshments my partner informed me, to my horror, that someone from the show had instructed her not to move a chair nearby because someone “needed access”. To what, or whom, remained unclear, but I was beginning to figure it was my deepest fears.
As I surveyed the front row of the stage I estimated I was reasonably safe. But when the show started, I discovered, to my great alarm, that there was a second stage which I was backing directly on to.
In that instant I realised my second worst fear had come true – I was in the red zone for audience participation fodder.
I now prayed my first fear didn’t come true, all the while trying to exude cool. That involved staring straight ahead for the rest of the show, like a rabbit in a spotlight, trying not to wet myself. My mate sitting four seats to my left later admitted he did the same thing.
Two people two rows in front did get called up and it has to be said that in terms of being good sports, they were Bradmanesque, because this show takes all things to great heights, not least the raunch.
In hindsight, I think Bradman would have struggled with the treatment they got. Let’s just say they took it in great spirit, like a giant shot of Absinthe is intended.