RIOT is a dazzling display of song, dance, circus arts and spoken word, at the Toronto Luminato Festival

Just in time to kick off a month of Toronto Pride celebrations and to launch the city into summer arts festivals season, The 2018 Toronto Luminato Festival welcomes THISISPOPBABY — a dazzling troupe of circus artists, dancers, singers, spoken word performers, and a delightful drag MC hailing from Ireland. Their production of RIOT is exactly that: 100 minutes of a variety show that assaults the senses in a display of dance, song, aerial artistry, politically charged spoken word,  and unabashed sexuality. What’s not to love?

RIOT brings together some of my favorite elements of circus and cabaret from trapeze and aerial hoops to tumblers and dancers all blended to the sounds of remixed pop hits. The addition of a phenomenally talented spoken word artist (Kate Brennan) and the sass and humor of “gender discombobulist” drag queen Panti make this show into something that is so much more than the sum of it’s parts. Like its name, RIOT is here to make you feel something  and many things all at once.

To start with,  Brennan, actress and musician, lends her voice here for some seriously fiesty spoken word. There are politics in her words as she spits fire, rage that fuels feminism and women’s rights. Here she gives her voice to the poem Heartbreak, originally written by Emmet Kirwan, which is so powerfully shocking and uplifting in an uprising kind of way. Her take on this poem is stunning.

The Lords of Strut, meanwhile, were certainly a crowd favorite. Cian Kinsella and Cormac Mohally play awkward stage brothers determined to Pump. You. Up. in a cheesy ’80s movie montage kind of way. Their slapstick humor paired with tumbling acts with a bit of contortion thrown in for good measure had the crowd hollering. The peak of their acts was an almost uncomfortable nod to Jesus Christ that included a Saran wrap barely-there loin cloth and audience participation.

Up and Over It features step dance duo Peter Harding and Suzanne Cleary, who have taken the art of Irish step dance and given it an entertaining new twist. From step dancing while jumping rope and another number to the tune of Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch”, I loved watching these two perform.

When singer Megan Riordan took the stage for her big solo, something interesting happened. The lights went out and the music stopped. As it was chalked up to technical difficulty, I had to wonder if in fact it was a system glitch or a planned feat, a way to have the crowd use the flashlights on their phones to light the stage and for Riordan to give an empowered speech about self motivation. Either way it was the one odd moment in the show.

RIOT delivers what it preaches in a dizzying lightning quick approach. It’s highly entertaining and delivers a powerful message. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun and well worth the watch. You’ll want to see this.


  • RIOT is playing at the Canadian Opera Company’s Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre (227 Front St E), as part of the Toronto Luminato Festival, until June 16 2018.
  • Performances run Tuesdays to Saturdays at either 7:00 pm or 9:45 pm. See website for details.
  • Tickets are $49 Standard, $32.25 for Arts Workers and Students/Youth for general admission. There is tabled seating that can be booked in advance for $60.37.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 416 368 3100.
  • Hearing assistance devices are available upon request.
  • Audience Advisory: Contains coarse language and mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.

Photo of the cast of RIOT by Conor Horgan for THISISPOPBABY