NZ Arts Festival 2008, Pacific Blue Festival Club
Feb 23-Mar 16 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

IT’S HARD to describe this one – was it music, theatre, acrobatics, physical comedy, dance? Hell, it was a bit of everything, an exuberant, carnivalesque, grotesque bonanza. It was one giant variety show that had the audience whooping like an orphanage, and departing with silly grins plastered on their faces. If you were going to go, and judging by the amount of the fun the audiences had (i.e. each night may sell-out quickly), I’d advise going drunk. It’ll quadruple the fun.

Sure, if you thought too seriously about it, parts of it don’t really work. The show’s narrative involved a flight to Purgatory on La Vie Airlines (“La Mort” didn’t quite attract the customers). It’s the Flight to Hell that “never quite makes it”. However, the narrative basically disappeared in the second half, but I’m not sure if many people in the audience cared too much, as it basically got in the way of the thrills anyway.

The show’s emcee, a double-entendre spouting, suave, French rugby-boasting, Auckland basher (he’d done his homework for his Wellington audience) was the pillar of the narrative, and was the central focus of the show. His interactions with a particular acrobat were the highlight, including the it-had-to-be-seen-to-be-believed diablo routine. Diablos (a former Filipino weapon reputedly) were huge at my intermediate school, so I know how difficult it is to even get them moving, let alone keep them going while doing back-flips. A lot of the other acrobatic stuff drew audible gasps from the audience for the sheer skill involved.

Music played an important role throughout from Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ (involving a mental institution patient) to Tom Waits to The Gotan Project (involving a ménage à quatre tango). There was also a rather hilarious a cappella song dedicated to sexual frustration. There were an enormous amount of randiness on show, and even audience members got in on the act when forced on stage.

The troupe used the Pacific Blue Festival Club’s space well too, even though it didn’t really maintain fidelity to the plane’s ostensible setting. Everyone was seated around the stage, and it had the feel of a circus. It probably worked well because of the show’s variety show feel, and allowed the best view of some of the incredible acrobatics on show. I daresay it was probably done for safety reasons too. The performers would occasionally prance around behind the audience too, maintaining a nice chaotic feel.

La Vie was just a wildly enjoyable show, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The audience lapped up the amazing stunts and performances, the cheap laughs, the silly moments and sheer spectacle. It’s a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.