“Ma-gique, ma-gique, ma-gique...”
Cirque Alfonse scored a big success with their iconic production Timber! and this summer, they’re returning to entertain audiences on London’s South Bank with their third – BARBU. They describe their show as a raucous and sexy cabaret and that pretty much hits the mark for this Québécois company as they combine circus tricks and magic tricks, beer-keg juggling and burlesque, acrobatics and audience participation (and alcohol too), the majority of which is delivered by bearded men and women (but mainly men) in their pants.
From roller-skaters pulling each other around by their beards to a man dressed as a glitterball whirling inside a Cyr wheel, the guys using one of their company as an actual skipping rope to human pyramids that seem to defy the laws of physics, the sheer amount of both skill and skills on display is a constant delight. Alain Francœur’s direction keeps things constantly moving and each segment sufficiently compact that if, say, gob-smacking trampolining or juggling ain’t your thing, it’s soon over (although the latter really should be, the scarves and the cups are just genius).
Cirque Alfonse aren’t just interested in just entertaining us with flash though (quite literally in some cases, a pair of pastie-covered breasts are soon trumped by a pair of French-Canadian tree trunks, parental guidance probably advised). André Gagné and David Simard’s electro-folk score delves deep into the folkloric musical well of Québéc with all its Celtic influences, video projections of the province’s natural beauty serve as a changing backdrop, and the range of acts reflects the company’s historical research into the origins of the circus in Montréal at the turn of the previous century.
The speed of BARBU does mean that not every segment resonates strongly – you could blink and miss the bed of nails, the mentalist and his hamster felt disjointed to me and the final audience interaction missed the mark. But the overriding sense of mischievous fun is just irresistible as hips sway, ribbons twirl and the guys try and sabotage each other’s routines with a twinkle in the eye and a cheeky tweak of the moustache. Great fun.