‘Love Song Circus’ by Katie Noonan – a ‘post-view’

Others preview: I post-view.  We went last week to see Katie Noonan’s show ‘Love Song Circus’ at the Famous Spiegeltent.

Ah- the Spiegeltent! Such an exotic idea better left in the realms of the imagination, I reckon.  Fortunately it was a balmy night as we lined up outside, instead of a 43 degree scorcher or -more likely- one of the grey windy greasy-chip-smell, leaf-whipped days outside the Arts Centre during a Melbourne cool change.  Then you’re ushered in to be shoe-horned into ricketty fold-up wooden seats in long rows around the stage. Determined (dare I say inconsiderate?) souls, intent on buying a glass of wine, push their way along the row.  There’s no point standing to let them pass as the seats are fixed anyway, so on they tumble, their alcoholic  prize held above their heads, spilling into the laps of their fellow-audience members,  with an apology here and a grumble there.  Surely the hard fought-for wine could scarcely be savoured when you can hardly move your arms enough to bring glass to lip.  It’s an “intimate” setting, to be sure.


Katie Noonan has a beautiful, crystalline voice, and she’s an intelligent and amazingly versatile performer.   This show, which she wrote herself, was prompted by an exhibition at the National Museum called Love Tokens.  These were coins that were smoothed and engraved as a memento for the convict’s family and loved ones, and they record the name of the convict and his/her loved one, the length of sentence and a popular rhyme or sentence.  The National Library holds 314 tokens, dating from 1762 to 1856- the largest collection in the world.   There’s a wonderful website devoted to the exhibition- well, well, well worth looking at.

These love tokens, so simple and yet so heavy in the stories they carry, have spawned many artistic responses, including this one.  As Katie Noonan writes in the program:

This symbol of love captured my imagination immediately- it is a profound glimpse into the minds of the first convicts to come to this land.  As a woman and mother I felt deeply compelled to explore these stories… Unfortunately the records I did find left me with the feeling that the things of women weren’t considered worth preserving.  Their stories have been silenced for a long time.  I decided to research the lives of particular women, try to really get into their hearts and minds and write songs from their points of view…

Some of the songs evoked the Irish origins of many convict women; many were about loss of children through death, separation through the act of  transportation itself, and then the orphanage arrangements in places like the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart.  It is sad, plaintive material and it came almost as a relief to move onto the feisty resistance of Ellen Scott, the leader of a flash mob at Cascades, and Mary Reibey who is on the $20.00 note.

Noonan’s performance is interwoven with a circus performance by three female performers.  While the performance reinforced the awareness of women’s bodies, both in the types of crimes for which they were charged and the punishments to which they were sentenced, I found it rather distracting.  I was wanting it to mirror the lyrics more than it did.  Perhaps dance would have been a better medium for the narrative?

The songs themselves were beautifully rendered.  We had been handed the programme with the lyrics while waiting, but I really wanted to follow along the words as she sang.  Alas, it was too dark to do so, and in such a lyric-heavy performance, I wished that I could do it more justice as a listener.

Her website has the lyrics to several of the songs.  Have a look- you’ll see how beautiful they are.

Postscript I have since purchased her CD and have been playing it over and over.  I wish that I’d had the CD before I saw her, so that I could have enjoyed recognizing familiar music, rather than coming to it for the first time.  If she brings this performance back (which I strongly suspect she will), I suggest buying the CD first.

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