Wild. Wet. Wicked. A circus rave like no other. Expect beards, comedy, and if you’re very lucky, a bit of nudity.
“BARBU is all about exploring the circus, looking back at what it was in the past and seeing what it has become today,” writes BARBU director Alain Francoeur in their souvenir programme. Three years since their Southbank debut with their 2013 show Timber!, Cirque Alfonse return with BARBU, to the best possible venue for a circus show: The Spiegeltent. It seems as though the early circus traditions exhibited in the opening few acts – collective juggling and rollerblading acrobats – no longer excite audiences. The raucous applause that welcomed Cirque Alfonse to the stage soon petered out and the buzz of the crowd died down as we waited for something spectacular.
Often, the success of a show depends on how performers deal with the unexpected, and the spectacular something that we were waiting for came in the form of just that: a power cut that stopped the show and left us in the dark (literally), with baited breath. Cirque Alfonse handled this in the most Quebecois way possible. Within minutes, the musicians and performers were all in the middle of the stage, illuminated by the dim glow of the emergency lighting, playing traditional Quebec folk music acoustically. This re-ignited the fire of excitement and wonder that had dimmed during the opening acts and by the time the power came back on, every audience member was stamping their feet and clapping along. They had created such a welcoming atmosphere, invited us into their world, in a way that only the Quebecois can do. We were hooked.
Following this unintentional interval, the latter part of the show was a dazzling combination of weird and wonderful circus tricks, underscored by sexy electro-funk and the trippiest of projection loops. I never thought I could be so entertained by four men stacking themselves on top of one another. Unlike the lithe and flexible acrobats of Depart, these men are not small. They epitomise the stereotype of Canadian woodsman: burly, bearded bears of men. They combine the solo and the ensemble, almost like a band of misfit brothers, fitting for a troupe which describes itself as a family company and performs as one. The two female acrobats, both called Geneviève (Gauthier and Morin), are equally impressive artists, and continued to awe the crowd with death-defying aerials and rather a lot of spinning. The only performer who disappointed me was Lucas Jolly, the ‘mentalist’, whose two solo acts were very lackluster and seemed completely out of place in this show. The only time I enjoyed seeing him onstage was during the finale, wherein one lucky audience member was invited to throw cream pies at his face, a circus tradition I wholly applaud.
All six acrobats performed the latter part of the show in only their underwear, dripping with sweat and gyrating on various audience members (none of whom complained). My personal favourite was Francis Roberge’s barrel tossing. His nickname ‘Frank The Tank’, is not given lightly – the most bear-like of the bunch, his comedic rapport with the comparatively tiny Jonathan Casaubon (A.K.A. Jo D’abit) had me in stitches. Acrobats aside, it was the four musicians who really made the show. The sexy electro-funk score gave BARBU the rave-like quality that had the audience pumped up and gagging for more.
Cirque Alfonse’s lilting Quebecois accents and playful humour give this spectacle such heart – it is not just a group of acrobats and aerialists attempting to impress and wow an audience with brute strength and creativity, but a circus show like no other. I felt as though I was somehow part of this weird dysfunctional family for an evening, a guest in their home.
Cirque Alfonse: BARBU
The Spiegeltent, London Wonderground (Southbank Centre) until 25 September 2016
Directed by Alain Francoeur
In association with Underbelly Proudctions
Tickets available: http://www.londonwonderground.co.uk/whats-on/2016-season-barbu
[All photos © David Jensen]