Stunning circus, clowns with ruffs and magical comedy in pick of the night shows

Garry Starr Performs Everything

Garry Starr believes theatre is dying and is convinced he alone can save it.
SUPPLIEDGarry Starr believes theatre is dying and is convinced he alone can save it.

Garry Starr wants to save theatre.

In order to complete his mission, this clown in a Shakespearean ruff – and sometimes little else – takes us swiftly through every theatrical genre from melodrama, Pinter, Ibsen, Shakespeare and mask work to Cirque du Soleil in just one hour.

But his mission is really just an excuse for a playful, silly and smart piece of wild and gleeful clowning.

Thousands out to see Christchurch buskers in action
Buskers hit the streets of Christchurch
Spiegeltent brings Bread and Circus to the world and Christchurch

Performer Damien Warren-Smith uses his alter ego as a showcase for verbally and physically dextrous clowning, body comedy and the kind of perfect comic timing that can raise a laugh with just the slightest shift of facial expression.

One particular piece of grotesque body comedy made me laugh so hard my stomach ached.

This is one of the funniest shows at the festival.


Fire eater Heather Holliday creates a giant fireball for the cabaret show LIMBO.
DAVID WALKER/STUFFFire eater Heather Holliday creates a giant fireball for the cabaret show LIMBO.

If you want a stylish, slick and sexy combination of cabaret and circus, then LIMBO is the show for you.

This festival flagship, performed in a beautiful spiegeltent erected in central Christchurch, has a winning mix of stunning circus skills and incredible live music – all overseen by a wordless beat boxing ringmaster in a white suit.

Highlights from this cavalcade of talent include a world class Chinese pole routine, a fire breathing act that produces gigantic fire balls, and a genuinely stunning sequence with performers atop tall bendy poles that flex precariously back and forth above the audience. The show is worth seeing for that routine alone.

But, this combination of stylish ingredients did not completely sweep me away. There were some unnecessary lulls in the pace and a few routines that felt like filler between the more spectacular set pieces.

It is a fabulous piece of circus cabaret, but falls just shy of a rave review.

Betty Grumble: Love & Anger

Sex clown Betty Grumble's show is on until January 19.
SUPPLIEDSex clown Betty Grumble’s show is on until January 19.

Betty Grumble is a self described sex clown.

What that means becomes startlingly clear during this radical, confronting, hilarious and obscene piece of performance art.

From the shocking opening moments, it is immediately obvious why the programme describes this show as a “flesh riot of dancing dissent”.

Grumble is a clown who uses her naked body to stunning comic and political effect, taking on feminism, death, love and families in a thrilling and astonishing cabaret show that is unlike anything else I have ever seen.

If you can cope with extreme and confronting nudity, you should absolutely see this show. But consider yourself warned.

Piff the Magic Dragon

Piff the Magic Dragon and his chihuahua sidekick Mr Piffles.
SUPPLIEDPiff the Magic Dragon and his chihuahua sidekick Mr Piffles.

If you watch America’s Got Talent, you will already know Piff the Magic Dragon’s dry, offbeat and endearing brand of comedy magic.

The British magician performs in a colourful dragon onesie with his unique sidekick – Mr Piffles the magical performing chihuahua. It is an absurd set up that belies the impressive magical skills on display and acts as a counterpoint to Piff’s acerbic wit.

The man behind the dragon, John van der Put, has incredible magic skills, performing intricate and impressive tricks that range from dramatic reveals to small pieces of close magic projected on a large video screen.

But the surprising and well executed magic tricks are not the main attraction here. The tricks are just a vehicle for Piff’s fun, dry patter and his impatient and grumpy bantering with audience members.

The endearing truth at the centre of this light hearted and unpretentious show is that Piff has amazing magic skills, but chooses to throw them away for fun.

It is less challenging and confronting than some other shows at the festival, but it will leave you mightily entertained.

Other picks:

The Miss Behave Gameshow – Miss Behave returns with her anarchic and joyous gameshow that stormed the festival in 2016 and then took on Las Vegas. My review from 2016: “A hedonistic and infectious party that sweeps up the crowd in its raucous embrace.”

Hot Brown Honey – Decolonise and moisturise. A slightly bewildering, funny and scattershot Australian take on the politics of post-colonialism, race and gender addressed through rude jokes, high energy dance, beat boxing, circus skills and R&B.

LEO: The Anti-Gravity Show – A mind-bending, charming and funny show that was here for the Christchurch Arts Festival in 2013. My review from 2013: “Leo playfully explores and deconstructs a single optical illusion over a very entertaining and oddly powerful hour.”