Review: Limbo Unhinged transforms Sydney Opera House with vaudeville steampunk

Strut & Fret have reimagined the wickedly entertaining Limbo production Sydneysiders have come to know and love into Limbo Unhinged, a new show that has toured the country to critical acclaim and constant sell-outs before landing at the Sydney Opera House, where it will sit for the next three months. It is vastly different to the Limbo of previous years, despite having the same cast with more or less the same tricks. Now, the show has been shaped and stretched into something more dazzling than daring (although there’s still plenty of that); more ritzy than raw. Though, it’s still vaudeville steampunk in design, furiously and aggressively blended with the endless wonder of the circus with pinches of burlesque and musical prowess – ranging from the sounds of contemporary cool to the downright weird – led by enigmatic Musical director and emcee Sxip Shirey.

Sydney Opera House’s The Studio couldn’t be any more different for the production when compared to its previous iteration. It’s not as charming or unique a venue than The Famous Spiegeltent – the stage is smaller and the ceiling lower – but the Limbo crew have used the space very well, reshaping the show in ways that make the reduced performance space seem much larger in scale.

Two bright red doors – one vertical and one horizontal – are featured in the simple but effective set-up, hiding mysterious swirls of smoke and teasing the imagination while performers strut out in groups, each signalling the different genres and approaches to performance that ebb, flow and crash into each other to create an extravaganza of music, acrobatics, Chinese pole theatrics, comedy, and more – all threaded together with a cheeky sense of play, teasing the audience with vivaciousness and wit.

While the new format may lack the grungy charm that made Limbo’s run at Sydney Festival’s Spiegeltent (in 2014 and 2015) such a memorable hit, the performers really are exceptional and impossible to fault. Each of these reality-defying Vaudevillians are so fluid on stage, with impeccable timing and presence so magnetic and mesmerising (some more than others) individually that when they are thrown together the results are electric and endlessly entertaining.

Heather Holliday is often the most referenced performer when people discuss Limbo, and there’s no surprise there – her sword-swallowing is taken to unbelievable heights in this new show, and the exciting fire-breathing vignette sears up the tiny stage with brilliant choreography. It’s equaled in awe by a comedy-slash-Chinese Pole routine that, although overlong, works well given the smaller stage and lower ceiling. The playful sway poles are back, and there’s tender moments of song, dance and incredible balance in between, ranging from Hilton Denis’ endearing tap routine to an exquisite hand-to-hand performance by Nicolas Jelmoni and Charlotte O’Sullivan.

Much like Limbo before it, Unhinged values variety over consistency; any discernible narrative is vague at best, and though any lesser show would be marred by such an oversight, this production is so endlessly entertaining that it’s hard not to love. It’s fringe theater at its finest.


Limbo Unhinged plays at Sydney Opera House’s The Studio until Saturday 3rd March 2018. For more information and tickets click HERE.

The writer attended this performance on 10th January. Images supplied and credited to Prudence Upton.