Two months ago Strut and Fret Production House director Scott Maidment was in Hobart overseeing a three-and-a-half-week run of their sexy new cabaret extravaganza, Deluxe Deluxe. Within days of it finishing he’d flown 15,500km to the far warmer climes of the Bahamas, in preparation for the opening of their intoxicating neon 1920's-themed production Showtime at the Pink Flamingo.
Such is life for the founder of the internationally recognised arts and events company, which since its modest beginnings in 1997 has now toured productions in 38 different countries around the world.
“We went to New Zealand (in February) and played Deluxe Deluxe over there for a couple of weeks and then we've just played a month in Hobart,” Scott told intouch Magazine.
“Now I’m in the Bahamas, and we’re opening another show here in the world's biggest Spiegeltent. It's called Showtime at the Pink Flamingo, and it's a kind of crazy flamingo-themed show in this great huge tent at The Atlantis on Paradise Island.
“[When I started Strut and Fret in 1997] I didn't think it would be this extreme. I started touring shows within Australia, and I think now we've played shows in 38 different countries or something like that, which is really exciting.
“Yesterday we got an email from someone in Slovakia, saying could we bring a show to Slovakia? I've never been to Slovakia, I don't even know where it is on the map but it's pretty interesting that now because of the internet, Facebook and social media, a lot of people from all around the world follow our shows, and that’s pretty cool.”
Novocastrians number among Strut and Fret’s most ardent fans, having flocked to previous productions held in the city including the award-winning show responsible for some of the naughtiest nights out in 2018, Blanc de Blanc.
This passion ensured Newcastle was an automatic inclusion on the list of destinations slated for the current tour of Deluxe Deluxe, a sexy and hilarious adults-only experience featuring the glitterati of international circus and cabaret talent.
“We did Deluxe Deluxe for the first time on the Gold Coast about mid last year, and it was supposed to be a one-off, we were just supposed to do it for a three week season and then stop,” Scott said.
“But it was so popular that we decided we should give it another run. In Hobart it went gangbusters, people just loved the nuts energy of it, so we're on a little tour at the moment.
“After the success of Blanc de Blanc in Newcastle, I really feel like the audiences there, in particular, are going to love Deluxe.
“When we’re touring the shows like Blanc de Blanc and Deluxe Deluxe, Newcastle is one of the biggest selling cities; they really get behind it.”
Part of the appeal, outside of the show itself, is the chance to experience a performance in the unique environment of the Spiegeltent.
Dutch for ‘mirror tent’, the Spiegeltent originated in Belgium in the late 19th century as a travelling entertainment venue. Unlike the humble canvas circus big-top, many people would be familiar with; the Spiegeltent has a glamorous old-world ambience decorated with mirrors, stained glass, velvet and brocade.
Strut and Fret began utilising the extravagant setting for some of its shows more than a decade ago and now bring a different tent out from Holland each year. Last year Newcastle played host to the exquisite Fortuna Spiegeltent during the Blanc de Blanc tour. However, this time around the larger art deco-inspired Victoria Spiegeltent will settle gloriously in the midst of Civic Park for the month-long run of Deluxe Deluxe.
“This tent has just come out of from Holland via New Zealand, and it's a beautiful one,” Scott said.
“It's got a big foyer, and it's interesting because it holds more people, but it still feels super intimate on the inside.
“It’s kind of art deco I guess, in that it's got beautiful wooden panels and of course the stained glass mirrors and the velvet curtains that Spiegeltents are known for.
“The booths are a bit bigger, providing a really deluxe environment to sit and see the show.
“I think part of the appeal is it's a really special occasion. The Spiegeltent is such a beautiful and unique setting and where the tent is in Newcastle it looks amazing in the park.
“It attracts people who may not ever go to the theatre any other time of the year. It's really a once-a-year trip for some people who think, ‘Let's go out and see something crazy and make a night of it", and they take their friends or go on date night.
"It's much more actually than just seeing a show. It's an experience. Go along, have a glass of wine, sit in the park, enjoy the beautiful surrounds of the Spiegeltent and see a crazy show with performers that are one-of-a-kind and leaders in their field from across the world."
The international line-up of performers is nothing short of amazing including the host of the show, Olivier Award-winner Amy G, an American singer, comedian and actor who has been described as “a virtuoso of physical comedy, a brilliant, insightful stand-up and a truly sensational singer”.
German aerial artist, Penelope Elena, will amaze and delight with her awe-inspiring mid-air manoeuvres, while drop-dead-gorgeous UK dancer Busola will have you mesmerised with his high-energy moves.
The show will also include rule-bending ‘invertebrate’, Anthony Rodriguez (USA); exotic temptress, Zoe Marshall (AUS); and beautiful-dangerous tigress, Ailona (RUS), with a number of other special guests rounding out the tight-knit cast of nine performers who ensure Deluxe Deluxe delivers an evening beyond even the wildest imagination.
“This is more like your classic variety show, it’s got a little bit of old-school charm about it, but it’s also hip, great music and pretty crazy in terms of the performers,” Scott said.
“There’s an amazing line-up of performers, literally from all around the world and we've bought them all together because they've got amazing skills that are deluxe, and we've said that the show is so deluxe that we've had to name it twice.
“It is a bit of a changing line-up as well; part of the vibe of Deluxe is that there are new guests happening on every tour, so you'll be able to see some of the regulars, but there’ll also be new guests coming in specifically for Newcastle.
“There's an amazing dancer called Busola who is from the UK, he’s a dark-skinned guy with long dreads and a crazy body, and he's just a huge, huge energy on the stage.
“Then there’s Amy G who does roller-skating, tap dancing and ukulele all at the one time. She also does an amazing act where she plays the kazoo but it doesn't go anywhere near her mouth, and that's certainly something to be seen.
“Then there's a couple of amazing aerialists, including one who's actually from Australia and she does a unique skill, which is kind of like trapeze but there's no trapeze because she’s actually suspended in the air by her hair, and it's something that you never see.
“Penelope Elena is another contortionist and aerialist who is from Salzburg. I've been working with her for a little while, and she loves Australia, so she was super pumped to come out here.
“There's a pancake sequence in the show where Penelope does a crazy contortion act and covers herself in maple syrup for a song called It's Maple Syrup Time, and I think that it's super deluxe and pretty crazy! You don't often see someone literally getting litres and litres of maple syrup poured all over them on stage! I think she has to have about three showers during the show.
“I think with our productions people expect to see something that they've never seen before or to be challenged... It really is finding those moments which are the talking point of the show – within Blanc it was ‘Oh my gosh, there was an MC who was in a hot tub!’ or in this it’s, ‘I've never seen someone covered in maple syrup’, or ‘I’ve never seen a huge tongue tap dance on stage’, which happens as well. It's pretty outrageous, and it's pretty crazy. It's Deluxe Deluxe.”
Scott said the physical characteristics of the Spiegeltent add to the atmosphere of the show, creating the opportunity for interactions between the performers and audience members in a way that is just not possible in a traditional theatre setting.
“It is a crazy night out. The show happens not just on the stage, but it happens around the audience, and the audience is really involved in the show, and so it really is something that you probably won't get the opportunity to see anywhere else,” he said.
“In the theatre when you go, mostly what you do is you sit there in front of a stage, and the first thing you see is the backs of a lot of peoples’ heads before you see the stage.
“But in a Spiegeltent, because it's played on a round stage, you're really close to the action for a start, and then what happens is not only do you see the performers on stage but then you see the audience on the other side of the stage. You see them laughing and enjoying themselves, and then they see you laughing and enjoying yourself and that kind of creates this contagious feeling in the tent, which you can't get in a normal theatre with straight rows.
"Pretty much everybody can get looked at right in the eyes or touched by a performer or you can see the sweat glistening on them, and it really is an up-close-and-personal experience, there's really no doubt the performers are playing then and there for you, and you're as much part of the action as they are."
“It's not like there's a fourth wall and they're just doing their stuff, and you just happen to be a voyeur. You're really part of the action.
“A lot of the performers that we work with have been touring the world doing Cirque du Soleil and things like that, but in that environment, they're playing in a massive arena, and they're just like the third blue person from the left or whatever, but in this environment, they really get to shine with their personalities, and they really get that intimate connection with the audience, and the performers love that. And because they love it, the audience loves it, so it really is a unique environment.”
The uniqueness of the environment also works in Strut and Fret’s favour when it comes to booking the other acts on the Spiegeltent program.
During its three-and-a-half week visit to Newcastle, the Spiegeltent will play host to 25 individual performances of Deluxe Deluxe, as well as a massive line-up of comedians, singers, dancers and musicians including iconic cabaret star, Carlotta, who will be bringing her smash-hit show, Queen of the Cross to Newcastle for the first time.
Indigenous, world-renowned dance sensations Djuki Mala will also make their Spiegeltent Newcastle debut in what Scott believes will be a real highlight of the program.
The group, from Elcho Island in North East Arnhem Land, perform a high-energy and stunning fusion of traditional Indigenous culture, contemporary dance and storytelling.
They made their mark in 2007 when their interpretation of Zorba the Greek went viral and have been thrilling audiences ever since with reinterpretations of popular culture and traditional dances in a way that juxtaposes contemporary Yolngu culture.
“Djuki Mala is an Indigenous dance crew that became famous for their YouTube clip Zorba the Greek; I think they've had three million views of this one clip worldwide,” Scott said.
“Then they've built on that and built a whole show, so if you've never seen Djuki Mala before, it's something special because their energy in that close environment is great. They're crazy, and they're fun, and the music is super good. It's been put together very well, the Djuki Mala show and it's really in demand internationally. I think they're headed back over to Edinburgh in the UK straight after Newcastle, so this is a great opportunity to see these guys.
“Because the Spiegeltent is such a unique environment to perform in, we're able to get some great performers as part of the bill, and especially this year; I think the comedy line-up is great.
“These performers, they'd rather play in a Spiegeltent than play in a concert hall or a club or something like that, and because Newcastle audiences are really turning up in full force, they're getting the highest quality acts and the highest quality performers, so it works both ways.”
Among the comedians on the line-up is well-known TV host and radio presenter Dave Hughes, whose laconic style of humour and bald-faced honesty has earned him a legion of fans over the years.
Another familiar voice from the airwaves will also make his way to the city this month, with former triple j breakfast host Matt Okine bringing his critically-acclaimed production The Hat Game to the Spiegeltent, while Newcastle-born Rhys Nicholson, The Ronnie Johns Half Hour performer Jordan Raskopoulos, Choose Your Own Adventure star, Laurence Leung and stand-up comedian, actor and television presenter Joel Creasey are also on the bill.
The comedy program will come to a blockbuster conclusion with a performance by one of the most successful comedians in the country, Wil Anderson, whose award-winning Wilegal show is a must-see for lovers of smart, fresh quality laughs.
For more details about the full schedule of acts and to buy tickets to any of the Spiegeltent Newcastle performances visit www.spiegeltentnewcastle.com