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Cirque Alfonse: Barbu

London Wonderground, London

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!

About The Author

Trustee & Reviewer (UK)

Richard McKee is a lawyer, and used to be a judge, but despite that (or because of that) he likes comedy, cabaret and pantomime.  These are the things that he reviews for Plays to See, for which – in view of his great age – he is also a trustee.  He leaves the serious stuff to the young!  But seriously, though, he thinks it is a great idea for young reviewers to hone their critical faculties and communication skills by writing for Plays to See, and feels privileged to be involved in its current expansion.

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One Response

  1. Chris Bridges

    Cirque Alfonse’s work was last seen in London in 2013 with ‘Timber!’ a lumberjack themed circus show. ‘Barbu’ follows a similar theme of muscular and testosterone-drenched cabaret with roller-skating, juggling and acrobatics from a troupe of hairy and excessively bearded men who are accompanied by two female performers and a live band.

    The show is a slow burner and took a while to warm up the audience with some of the initial routines feeling a bit lacklustre and limp. The action moved along with the thumping background music, rapidly increasing in intensity and once the show launched there was no stopping it. The last thirty minutes were raucous, absurd and highly entertaining. There’s nothing balletic or graceful about these men but there is something raw and ruggedly handsome about their movements.

    The acrobatics, circus skills and stunts, though occasionally breath taking, are nowhere near as thrilling or jaw dropping as those seen in the producers’ previous smash hit show ‘Limbo’ but ‘Barbu’ has a definite charm to it and a wry wit. They’re a skilled bunch of performers who grunt, squat and sweat so much that you can almost feel the droplets raining on the crowd. There’s nothing self reverential about their movements either as they bump and grind in black pants, invent a whole new sub-genre of pole dancing and spin, flip and balance. Part of the humour is how much it feels like they’re laughing at themselves.

    The atmosphere is often frenetic and wild. The mark of a good circus show is that that it must suit the audience. This is definitely circus for the over-sixteen year olds and suits a younger early evening crowd on the cusp of drunkenness in the atmospheric Spiegeltent. It’s not good clean fun but the what’s wrong with raucous dirty fun? It certainly passes an evening and wins over audiences.


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