How many set-ups with teasingly homoerotic overtones can one circus show sustain? Plenty … when Head First Acrobats’ Railed places four frisky, highly physicalised bandits alone in a (very) Wild West.
Left to their own devices, and with a few tricks up their sleeves, they are ever eager to cook up all sorts of boys’ own tomfoolery.
Railed is set firmly between ‘life at the outpost’, a derailed spaghetti western and a particularly demented Looney Tunes episode.
As cast member Tom Gorham proudly notes, “We do different versions of ‘fun and dumb’ .. that’s all we do. It’s a brand we seem to have developed.”
Gorham is the self-described “god of mischief” of the troupe of four and the obvious source for much of their merriment.
Railed is a blazing example of what he admires in a successful circus. “It’s got to have a story; it’s got to have relatable characters; it’s got to be funny and have a nice aesthetic,“ he says.
Despite his ‘whole of work’ views, Gorham runs off the rails with the tricks and the gags. He readily leaves co-director Cal Harris to nail the look — and Harris has a rounded approach to aesthetics. As Gorham slyly quips: “Cal is the big one with the man bum … He’s dreamy and has lots of fans.”
As grown-up boys having fun, the troupe present somewhat “scraggily; like cowboys would … smelly and dirty,” Gorham enthuses.
Pushed along by a Morricone-esque mash-up man-beat, the show allows naturally for a ‘hipsterfied’ form of endearingly affectionate male bonding. Railed makes mere bromance look pretty lame.
Even if our merry men are just very good actors—which must be part of the skill set—the troupe’s camaraderie, playfulness, familiarity and sheer joy in companionship is inviting and infectious.
And while our merry crew set out on any number of adventures, they never seem to actually get started, so he and his buddies “never leave the bar”.
“This is definitely what happens at the outpost.”
Between whacks of tomfoolery, interspersed with a little horse play here and there, their extraordinary physical feats vigorously push the playful narrative along.
As a masculinised romp, Railed is a new-age form of camp. Gone are the double-entendres and glittery, camp devices of a vampier age, ever plotting to trick innocent boys together in imagined acts of delicious unnaturalness. And in Railed, there is little need for subterfuge, because there is little resistance.
Gone also, are the mumbling, neurotic, closeted cowboys of a more recent past; cowboys condemned to their cold isolation on the windswept, broken-backed high planes.
Railed annihilates at a stoke whole genres, happy to mine eternally negative and unresolvable images attached to unattainable masculinity—be they those peddled by the Chippendales or the Calvin Klein underwear ads of the past. Our crew are just a posse of happy cowboys: physical, familiar, flirty and ever ready to play.
The plot line of Railed points to a form of circus that advances the genre beyond a collection of highly impressive physical acts — yet the troupe’s skilful physicality is the assumed base offering.
As the plot advances, it draws the audience into an ever widening imaginary world. And sitting within it, the answer to the great question seems so obvious: Why wouldn’t anyone want to run away and join the circus?
It is a delightful prospect, especially if these chaps were your companions, and you were up for some shenanigans and a bit of horse-play.
As Gorham concludes: “We just I want our audiences to have a rollicking good time.”
Railed, part of the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival, is playing from Tuesday to Sunday, 12 to 25 September at the Wonderland Spiegeltent, The Paddock – Federation Square, Melbourne. For showtimes, information and tickets ($35-$39) visit melbournefringe.com.au or call (03) 9660 9666.