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Reviews/Circus/Fringe World Festival/Music

A fantastically camp take on Madonna

19 January 2021

Fantastically camp and innovative, Madonna enthralled Patrick Gunasekera with its blend of drag and circus acts.

Madonna: The Diva, the Icon, the Circus, Barbie Q and Kinetica ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Saturday 16 January, 2021 ·

Campy, unconventional and entertaining, Madonna: The Diva, the Icon, the Circus is an exciting impersonation concert with a powerfully innovative approach. Boldly pairing the visceral self-discovery and risk of circus with the sexually unabashed practice of drag, the show testifies to the sheer magnitude of Madonna’s legacy and dares to expand the possibilities of sexual expression on stage.

Madonna is played delightfully by local drag superstar Barbie Q. Her signature smooth but authoritative delivery is widely adored, and her Madonna is strikingly realised through her own nuanced flair rather than through strictly mimicking Madonna’s style. Thus, Barbie Q not only establishes her own unique take on the singer-songwriter’s revolutionary work but – in true queen mother fashion – creates space for the individual voices of her troupe of younger talents, who are also free to express their own performance and visual styles without pressure to conform.

The curation of Madonna’s many essential hits is sophisticated, and they are staged with a charmingly broad versatility. One cheerful aerial act set to the sweet love song, “Cherish”, has a beachy theme, with some performers in mermaid tails, others with bright turquoise bathers and striped towels, and an aerial hoop in the shape of an anchor.

In contrast, a captivating and expressive suspension act sees Barbie Q perform “Erotic” in a leatherette leotard, alongside two harnessed aerial performers, adding a BDSM edge to the number.

With the entire stage atypically bare, the capacity to sustain energy over the course of an hour is compromised at times, most noticeably during punchier tracks. But it means the choreographic subtleties of the slower acts are beautifully magnified, revealing in detail the uniqueness of each performer’s style.

Sarah Ritchie excelled in her solo contortionist and silk acts. Photo: Naomi Reed

One performer who is well up to this challenge is the exceptionally supple Sarah Ritchie. Her alert physicality and perceptive restraint are mesmerising when she performs alone, particularly in solo silk and contortionist acts set to the dynamic tracks “Material Girl” and “Illuminati”.

Another performer of note is the graceful Matthew Pope, whose soulful expression and inimitable focus are an asset as he demonstrates his dedication to queering circus craft.

In contending with the size and scope of the Studio Underground’s black box performance space, without excessive set and visual supports, the immortal device of queer performance – creating a lot from a little – is gorgeously realised in Madonna: The Diva, the Icon, the Circus.

This production is a fantastically camp and multifaceted adaptation of a large-scale Madonna concert, with the unrivalled intimacy of a club drag show. Its audacity is inspiring and refreshing – and it feels like home.

Madonna: The Diva, the Icon, the Circus is on in the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 21 January, 2021.

Pictured top: Drag diva Barbie Q and her troupe serve up a Madonna tribute with a difference. Photo: Naomi Reed

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Zal Kanga-Parabia

Author —
Patrick Gunasekera

Patrick Gunasekera is a queercrip Sinhala artist working across performance, visual media, and writing. After reading a poorly written review on a show about disability, he got into arts writing to critically engage with touchy topics that affect him personally. He loved the monkey-bars as a kid because he wanted strong arms. Photo by Zal Kanga-Parabia.

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