My very first thought while watching the opening of Studio City in Macau’s new all-electric stunt show Elekron is of the scene in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace where Anakin races against Sebulba in the Boonta Eve Podrace. The show opens with motorbikes, quad bikes, cars, you name it, filling the arena with a dizzying array of stunts, that I’m sure I missed some.
Elekron is an ancient Phoenician word meaning “shining light”, which may explain the strange spelling to viewers unsure of the pronunciation – but in the show it represents a beacon of hope in a fictional post-apocalyptic world.
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While the stunts are impressive, they work within the narrative and are used to drive the story. In this fantasy world, different tribes unite to defeat powerful electrical forces and ensure their survival in a land where nature is out of control. The Mad Max inspiration becomes clear once the show comes together. A contemporary message in the age of climate change, while using all electric vehicles – this is its true success.
The show starts with guns blazing, and you are not sure where another vehicle will come from, or whether they will even fit on the 900-square-metre stage. Someone playing an electric guitar and the screeching tyres makes you feel like you are at an illegal street race. Someone who drives will instantly understand the tremendous timing and coordination it takes to make such stunts succeed. One wrong move in such a confined space and things could go very wrong.
What I don’t realise until I speak to the cast the following day is what an accomplishment this is using all electric vehicles. It is a first for the stuntmen and women performing life or death tricks when they’re used to using petrol. One stunt where double Guinness Worlds Records holder, Matt Coulter – the cast know him as the Kangaroo Kid – drives a quad bike up and across a massive wall that seems to defy gravity, is at the core of the show.
“My favourite vehicles are the quads, the ones that I built,” says the stuntman who has worked on Hollywood blockbusters such as the James Bond thriller Die Another Day, Transformers, Doctor Strange and Mission Impossible – Fallout tells me afterwards.
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Why was it so difficult, I ask. “Because it has never been done before,” he says. This means customisation of all the vehicles, and lots of bruises for the stuntmen as they perfect the tricks on their electric vehicles. Coulter took a tumble twice while trying to ride a quad bike across a wall.
However, stunt work is not just left to the vehicles. When the aerialists suddenly drop down from the ceiling, all I can think of is where are they standing? How does that happen? One of the charms of the show is its raw, industrial warehouse-style stage. Being able to see the rigging, the lighting, a massive wall used for stunts and projections and a stage without much to hide gives me a sense of participation that other shows fail to provide. Melco’s other blockbuster show, The House of Dancing Water, at the City of Dreams, keeps you enthralled through mystery, Elekron’s setting is a relative open book, yet it still manages to surprise.
It has rawness that I keep coming back to, a little steampunk, a little metalhead that appeals to my younger self and the time I dated a guy who was into street racing. It gave an all-encompassing sensory experience. The screech of the tyres is a by-product of the stunts that cannot be masked by any amount of musical decibels but what gave this show a unique appeal. I even enjoy the smell of the burnt rubber. It feels like it brings me closer to the action.
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This post-apocalyptic world isn’t all doom and gloom, the narrative is punctuated nicely with its own Shakespearean fools for some comic relief where they drive in on a car with a couch on in its roof, call an audience member on the phone and speak gibberish to them. It ends when the fool stabs himself and fake cuts come out of his trousers. As someone deeply unmoved by slapstick humour, I even find myself giggling and appreciate the break in adrenaline before the show moves towards the final act.
My final thought in the closing moments of the show is that, “it is a celebration of wheels”. There are cars, quad-bikes, motorbikes, bicycles, electric skateboards even trolleys to do tricks with and, just when I think there could not possibly be another type of wheel, a biplane caps the show at the end with the aerialists performing on its wings.
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While I’m sure the cast of Elekron would prefer to be judged independently of The House of Dancing Water, audiences will have high expectations of its sister show before they even sit down – and will subsequently leave with an inevitable comparison. That is an unfortunate by-product of being a younger sibling. Elekron still has some way to go – not just in attracting first-time audiences but also to persuade them to keep on coming back for more.
Video by Bridgette Hall
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