Cirque Alfonse: Barbu

Reviewer's Rating

This has been the most jam-packed hour and a quarter in your reviewer’s career.  As he walked across the footbridge over the Thames to the Southbank Centre, the sky was still heavy with the dark clouds that had poured torrents of rain over the capital as the sodden citizens tramped to the polling booths to cast their votes in the most important political decision for a generation.  Some light relief was badly needed.  As your reviewer entered the London Wonderground and skirted past the giant purple mammaries of the Udderbelly tent, he came upon an archway with Paradiso emblazoned upon it.  This looks better than Purgatorio, he thought to himself.  It was actually the entrance to the Spiegeltent – a tent with mirrors, a very large tent, with a very small circular stage in the middle, and rows of seats all around.  What was in store?  Would it be the light relief from the Referendum and thunderstorms that your reviewer craved?

What followed certainly took his mind off all of that.  Cirque Alfonse are four hunky men with fulsome beards, two toned and slender females, and an older guy with apparently kinky propensities – just like an ordinary collection of Londoners, you might think.  But wait till you see what they do.  You will be amazed at the displays of strength, agility, timing and balance, carried off with panache and sheer bravery.  One wonders how the small round stage can contain such exuberance without spilling over into the audience.  Indeed, it does sometimes, with audience participation willing or not.  But it is all done with good humour.

There is no need to list the feats of acrobatics, juggling, mayhem and even magic that follow each other relentlessly, driven along by a pulsating score from an excellent three-piece band who play drums, guitar, fiddle, synthesizer and even trombone.  My companion was enthralled, saying that after a hard day’s work at the office she was totally absorbed into what was truly “something completely different”.  Apart from the physicality, there are some weird and wacky comic scenes, and – be warned – an occasional glimpse of naughty bits.  The Wonderground programme for the summer season includes a list of “Family Shows”.  But Barbu is not among them.

The show is not cheap (apart from the cheap seats).  But you will get your money’s worth in an adrenaline-filled hour and a quarter.  Your reviewer has calmed down a bit now.  But he is still wondering about how they did their magic trick with a girl in a box.  See if you can puzzle it out!