When One Door Closes

“…superhuman in its own right.” – The Australian, Australia

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the inconsequential husbands and lovers, are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora (A Doll’s House).

Welcome to Circa’s candy-coloured world. A theatrical fantasia that sees these three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

Sexy and kooky, thought-provoking and joyful, When One Door Closes invites you into a world of unhinged madness. A dreamscape where alternate histories jostle with past traumas. Where powerful women and men renegotiate their roles. Where love and desire dance their eternal, infernal dance. What happens when theatre runs away to the circus?


World premiere Brisbane, Australia 2016
Performers 7
Duration 85 minutes
Touring History Australia, Canada


Cameron Pegg, The Australian, ‘Physical theatre: sisters of the circus in When One Door Closes’ published April 11, 2016

Hedda Gabler, Nora Helmer and Miss Julie meet beneath multicoloured lights in a big top reminiscent of a backyard barbecue.

The concept is pure Circa, enabled by the Roundhouse Theatre and dramaturgy by La Boite artistic ­director Todd MacDonald. Directors Yaron Lifschitz and Libby McDonnell have taken the doomed heroines and allowed them to make different decisions in another place and time.

Standing back to back in candy-coloured wigs, they literally consume their stories and start again. Sporting velvet and ­sequin costumes, the male acrobats use their strength in every scene, but are certainly no oppressors. Curiously, the bespoke music of Oonagh Sherrard that introduces each of the women makes way for a jukebox of feel-good numbers from Burt Bacharach, Cyndi Lauper and others. These camp asides add colour and fun, but ­provide diminishing returns.

Bridie Hooper’s Hedda arrives on stage to draw her outline in crime scene chalk, as only a contortionist can. Her aerial straps act is fringed with violence; the neck, chin, elbows and feet all bearing full weight as she navigates a ­spiderweb of her own making. Brittannie Portelli’s Nora is no caged bird, employing the men as subjects during a memorable burlesque number. Nicole Faubert provides limited insight into Miss Julie’s story, but offers explosive partner acrobatics with Martin Evans, and a quality solo hand-balancing act at the show’s end.

The key with narrative-driven circus is to ensure the story doesn’t suffocate the skills. Duncan West’s standing back somersault to hang from the trapeze is superhuman in its own right. The show’s most stunning moments are athletic achievements stripped bare including a late ensemble scene that harnesses suspense and danger (I won’t ruin the surprise). The action takes place on a slick raised platform that quickly loses its sheen as the performers dart in and out of the doors at each corner. Jason Organ’s lighting ­effectively shrinks and expands the audience’s focus as required.

Freed from its literary aspirations and allowed to evolve as a piece of physical theatre, the show could live happily on the Spiegeltent circuit for years to come. When One Door Closes telegraphs MacDonald’s genuine ­desire to collaborate across theat­rical forms, even if the results are ­uneven.

It is also a rare display of an ­artistic director willing to relinquish creative control, in the first season that bears their imprimatur, no less.

★★★★★Alison Cotes, Daily Review, ‘Circa’s When One Door Closes (La Boite Brisbane)’ published April 10, 2016

Personally, I’ve seen enough multifarious hula hoops and twisting silk acrobatic ropes to last me a life time, and every time I go to the circus now, even it’s one as good as Circa, I sit back and mentally challenge them to entertain me. After all, how many variations are there on Reeling and Writhing and Fainting in Coils, and do we really need any more?

There are two kinds of circus that do manage to impress; the cunning array of stunts that we get from the big, no-expense-spared, international touring companies from China and Russia, and the narrative variety where you can at least follow the story and ponder the young performers who can manipulate their bodies into impossible positions. Ouch, that must hurt!

Circa, a little Brisbane company now ten years old, combines both these kinds of circus and adds a dash of hot spice to make something we’ve never seen before. They’ve toured 34 countries across six continents to rapturous receptions, and yes, I know they all say that, but in this case it’s true.

In the case of this latest show, When one door closes, I wished that there could have been more young people in the audience instead of just the (madly appreciative) middle-aged people who packed the Roundhouse on the second night. Because this is the kind of acrobatic theatre that has you wanting to say to energetic young people “do try this at home” – or at least on the beach or somewhere with a soft landing.

There’s nothing soft and romantic about any of it – it’s often brutal, has a strong feminist element, and is highly political. Four men, three women, in coloured sparkles that must have drained Paddy’s Market of their entire glitter stock, the guys in dark blue shorter-than-shorts and the girls in wigs of quite alarming shades of lolly pink, bright orange and blood scarlet, did everything you’ve ever seen before but far more vigorously, literally charging at each other and throwing bodies across the stage so that I, for one, was physically wincing, with an edge of brutality that makes a footy crowd brawl look tame.

There’s a kind of story here, with oblique references to some of Ibsen’s put-upon heroines who quietly leave their gilded cages and change to world. Nora, Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie aren’t differentiated by character, but are tokens of feminine opposition to domestic violence that gradually made the new western world. But it’s not a straightforward narrative where you can sit back and follow the story. For once the point has been made and the background situation set, there’s nothing to do but admire and gasp with astonishment and sometimes real fear — especially when the bruises on some of the girls’ perfect white legs are there, bold and vivid, for everyone to see.

Some props are indispensible, of course, like the hula hoops, which here enclose the four men by the neck as they perform as one inside them; people flying through the air with the greatest of ease from each other’s shoulders; and a long straight swing not high in the air with a safety net, but at eye level so you can see everything up close and personal.

Not a tutu in sight, no frills and furbelows (or even on top), nothing but sheer physical perfection of energy, and if once in the show someone dropped a ball during an act, that just made it all the more real.

Nathan Boyle, Martin Evans, Nicole Faubert. Bridie Hooper, Todd Kilby, Brittannie Portelli and Duncan West are the performers, and they all have that rough energy and slightly threatening physical presence that mark out Circa’s unique style. The production team, too many to name individually, create for them a dark brooding environment to work in, and Yaron Lifschitz and Libby McDonnell are a directorial dream team.

Take your children and your grandchildren, persuade every twenty-something you know to go along, for this is dance in all its rawness and astonishment which makes you realise the sheer wonder of the human body.


★★★★★Devon Cartwright, ArtsHub, ‘When One Door Closes (La Boite Brisbane)’ published April 12, 2016

Powerful, collaborative, and awe-inspiring. Co-creators Yaron Lifschitz and Libby MacDonald have created a unique world in which three female protagonists (Nora, Hedda Gabler, and Miss Julie) experience an imaginative, and mysterious encounter with one another. Explored through an explosive performance of acrobatic finesse, When One Door Closes is an epic telling of a new story through physical performance.

While ultimately a mystery to the audience, the story is a beautiful and empowering perception of how these three heroines might have interacted had they all met in another place. Complimented by a wide range of music that matches well with the performances being unravelled before the audience, the amount of investment placed into this production is clear as anything. Utilising the Roundhouse Theatre to its potential, the audience is exposed to the unique physicality of each heroine, and experiences intense performances via acrobatic arts on a number of different contraptions.

Supporting a cast of seven talented individuals, When One Door Closes is an amazing feat of creativity that is a pinnacle of success. The stunts, lifts, and tumbling involved in this production is a true testament of strength, dedication, and sheer willpower to develop such a fast-paced and powerful piece of art. Even if by chance one of the performers made a mistake during this performance, the audience would not know it wasn’t on purpose, as the characters are remarkable and each unique in their quirky fashion. The ability to mask imperfections as though they are meant to be exactly what they are is what any artist should strive for; as such, no evident faults could be viewed as being out of place during this performance.

Audience members are sure to be thrilled, intrigued, and overwhelmed by this performance in the best ways possible. If this is the kind of imaginative power Lifschitz can combine in a smaller performance space, audiences everywhere will be amazed when he leads the creative team behind the Commonwealth games. All-in-all, When One Door Closes is a true piece of theatre that combines the best of naturalist playwrights, with modern acrobatic flair.


Created by Yaron Lifschitz and Libby McDonnell with the Circa Ensemble
A production by Circa and La Boite

Director Yaron Lifschitz and Libby McDonnell
Dramaturg Todd MacDonald
Composer Oonagh Sherrard
Lighting Design Jason Organ
Costume Design Libby McDonnell
Set Design Jason Organ

International Representation
Paul Tanguay (Worldwide)
David Lieberman / Artists’ Representatives (USA)

Circa acknowledges the assistance of the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Ministry for the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund. 

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