If there were one word that could be used to describe Tom Tom Crew’s Melbourne Festival show, it would be exuberant. Subtlety is not the flavour here – this is a loud, raucous carnival show geared around a hip hop sensibility, and one that impresses with the sheer energy of the proceedings.
At the heart of Tom Tom Crew is musician/emcee Ben Walsh and human beatbox Tom Thum, who provide the pulsating core around which the acrobatic team tumble, flip and balance precariously upon each other’s heads. This is where the marketing team have positioned the show, as a sort of street Cirque De Soleil, and for the most part this angle is somewhat accurate. The physical performers, largely graduates from the renowned Fruit Fly Circus, could only have made female audience members happier if they handed out cheese to grate on their flawless physiques.
Walsh is an ideal host – he smoothly elicits from the crowd the energetic responses necessary to sustain a show big on spectacle but rather short on substance, and his drumming chops are incredible. He is also a gifted storyteller, as evidenced by his tale of the Omnichord, an obscure early ‘80s Japanese instrument he discovered in an Adelaide thrift shop. When Tom Thum takes the stage, his vocal dexterity is awe-inspiring, shifting effortlessly between drum and bass licks and a near flawless jazz trumpet. One part of the show that drags, however, is a video where we are subjected to Tom’s graffiti skills as he wildstyles a piece across the Berlin Wall – impressive, but self-indulgent. Regarding the acrobats, these guys are terrifyingly able. An extended moment of contortionism at the midway point is perhaps the highlight of the evening.
There is a real sense of risk to the night – one or two near misses could have gone horribly awry – and this helps keep the show edgy and ticking along at a good pace. It is not an entirely cohesive piece of theatre, but then its not meant to be. Some audiences may be a bit bemused by the mish-mash of hip hop and aerial physicality, but after stellar responses from their world tour Tom Tom Crew are on safe ground here at the Melbourne Festival, and are sure to be received warmly for their undeniable talents.