It’s naughty, it’s raunchy and at times repulsive, but this blend of circus and cabaret with a solid dose of absurdity is 90 minutes of edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
There’s no plot, but hey, Empire never pretends to have one and that’s part of its charm. If you’re after some clinging grasp of a narrative, it revolves around New York, vaguely, but that takes a backseat once Elena Lev-Bakker opens the show contorting inside a bubble suspended above the tiny stage.
Anne Goldman and Jonathan Taylor tie the acts together as the extravagant hosts Fanny and Oscar, who push themselves and the audience to the most uncomfortable extremes, including a disturbingly intriguing use of bananas. Depending on how you role, they make the fruit a hell of a lot more fun, or may have you vowing to never touch one again.
Ethiopian foot jugglers the Addis brothers, Tariku Fufa and Yonas Teka, are mind-blowingly talented, their strength not only in moments of perfection, but also in when the performers halt, stumble, but never quite fall.
Deniis Pataev and Meriia Beisembetova get the heart pumping in a roller blading escapade with a twist of bondage while French duo Ludivine Furnon and Nicolas Besnard don tighty-whities for an intimate act of epic proportions.
This may have started in Broadway, but it has an international cast and a home grown foundation, with Australian director Wayne Harrison joined by choreographer John “Cha Cha” O’Connell of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge fame.
Be warned, Empire is not for the prude or those with a phobia of audience participation. And in case you forget, heed one bit of advice from the ringmaster: no flash photography unless you want the performers to die.