Presenting a moderately entertaining variety of acts, Papillion Unplugged is a circus cabaret featuring chair-balancing, hand-balancing, aerial hoop, juggling, and singing. Performing in Melbourne Fringe, the host for the evening Minnie Andrews announces that they’ve left two of their seven members behind for this short season. She emphasises that they’ve aimed for retaining quality rather than quantity, and in retrospect, perhaps this should’ve been the first sign that the following performance was about to underwhelm.
Acrobat Amy Nightingale-Olsen and her juggling partner open the show. They drop pins four times, and Nightingale-Olsen shows a hint of frustration. As the opening act, it does no favours in setting the tone for the acts yet to come.
Acrobat Joshua Phillips shows off his chair-balancing talent with some audience interaction, passing hoops to audience members and motioning for them to throw these at him while he stands atop multiple stacked chairs. Without any verbal communication, it verges on more of an awkward charade than entertaining engagement, but to his credit, the energy of the performance doesn’t wane.
Mark Graham’s aerial hoop act and acrobatic striptease impresses. Graham also performs a hand-balancing act, moving his weight between pegs and humorously dancing with his legs. Graham returns to the stage multiple times, each time wearing less clothing. Although the promotion suggested that Papillion Unplugged would feature extensive nudity, it soon becomes apparent that Graham’s tiny costumes – including his novelty elephant thong – comprise the entirety of the performance’s nudity component.
Andrews is charismatic and engaging in her role as host. Introducing each of the acts, she also takes the stage as a performer to sing. She showcases her vocal talent and her comedic timing in a “wholesome” performance of ‘Rubber Ducky’. Wearing only towels tied around their waists, Graham and Phillips blow bubbles at Andrews and up her skirt. It’s mostly mild, a little bit cheeky, and pretty much just as vanilla as the rest of the acts.
Introducing her next song as a love song, she belts a show tune style version of ‘My Neck, My Back.’ Her four co-stars alternate flipping signs towards the audience, reading ‘neck,’ ‘back,’ ‘pussy,’ and ‘crack.’ It’s amusing, but not as entertaining or as lewd as anticipated.
Unfortunately, the promotion for Papillion Unplugged’s Melbourne Fringe season was more exciting than their performance. Promising “circus for grown ups,” their performance here could be more appropriately advertised as circus for MA15+: parental supervision suggested. It’s not exactly disappointing; it’s just oversold itself.