Barbu, Southbank

Every summer merriment and circus talent arrives on the Southbank to contribute to the weird and wonderful Wonderland programme. This year Cirque Alfonse from Montreal presents a wacky show which explores the origins of circus performing and curious eccentricities.

Barbu on Southbank

The company describe Barbu as ‘Electro trad cabaret’, a show which combines dry humour with astonishing circus performances. The cast is made up of four bearded men, two strong and flexible ladies and (a rather unnecessary) older man, used as the brunt of many of the show’s jokes.

Barbu which translates to ‘bearded’ is a patchwork of acts, which the team perform on a small circular stage surrounded by audience. It is a petite platform for many of the tricky routines, whether its on roller skates, precariously balanced human towers or aerial acrobatics. Sitting alarmingly close to the performers I often felt we, as the audience, could be most at risk of an act toppling over the edge of the stage.

There are some motifs in the show, which I just didn’t get. A hamster is a recurring theme, carrying around the stage frequently for no reason I could understand. And nudity plays an irrelevant and unfunny part in the storyline. Despite this I found circus performances exhilarating and exciting, especially with the feel-good accompaniment from the live on stage band.

Barbu runs at London Wonderland until 25 September, book tickets here.

Mystère by Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas

Cirque du Soleil shows are always amazing, wherever you see them in the world, but in Las Vegas this theatrical circus company has found a real home. There are currently seven permanent shows performing in the desert funfair city, all residents of huge hotel complexes where specially designed theatres are built into the buildings. These auditoriums are playgrounds for the talented acrobats, comedians and musicians, and they bounce and fly around the arenas with ease and genuine enjoyment.

Mystère was the first show to arrive in Las Vegas in 1993, with the first performance thrilling audiences at Treasure Island on Christmas Day. 22 years and 10,000+ performances later this magical show is still considered by many to be the best show to see in Las Vegas. Loosely following the theme of the mystery of life, the show begins with two wailing prams left stationary on stage. There are a few other hints towards this subject, though in true Cirque du Soleil style the piece of theatre takes on a life of its own.

A number of acts have been with the show since it started, a dedication that is testament to the company. We were first greeted with the mischievous clown Brian Dewhurst, marching around the theatre, deceiving innocent guests and throwing popcorn around. He has been on the show for 17 years and still has boundless energy at 83 years old.

The stage is an impressive feat of technical design, no surface is permanent, every part constantly evolves and the scale is astounding. The performance runs seamlessly for 90 minutes, without an interval, which keeps the audience’s attention focused and immersed. A series of dramatic acts in spectacular costumes grace the stage, each with their own supernatural talent. I found the Hand-to-hand act particularly moving, two brothers illustrate super strength, balancing in a range of spectacular poses. As expected the most awe-inspiring acts are left for the finale. A group of acrobats hurl themselves into the air, catapulting each other onto giant trampolines and forming human pyramids. Then we watch high above our heads as brave performers swing on trapezes and swap mid air – it has a dreamlike impossibility.

Every sense is entertained with this award-winning show from the Cirque du Soleil team. I have always loved their circus extravaganzas but somehow it feels bigger, better and more unbelievable in the setting of Las Vegas’ Treasure Island theatre.

More information and book tickets to Mystère here.

Fuerzabruta, Roundhouse

My Facebook feed has been clogged up with flabbergasted Fuerzabruta participants, accompanied by blurry photos of the mad and chaotic acts.

The first show to play at the re-opened Roundhouse in 2006, it continues to thrill at this great London venue on its third run.

This contemporary theatre and circus show originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2005, created by Diqui James. Since it began, it has been witnessed by over 3 million people in 25 different countries.

Fuerzabruta translates as ‘brute force’ and this theme is evident throughout in both the action and the music. The Fuerzabruta signature soundtrack provides an energetic and clubby backbone for the production, rhythmically it motivates both the performers and audience.

Visually I found the show intermittently spectacular, and there is no doubt about the creative team’s talent. The ‘running man’ runs relentlessly on a treadmill enduring gunshots, walls of cardboard boxes, and other potentially dangerous interference. Iridescent foil covers the walls as floating dancers chase each other in the air. Then there are the impressive suspended swimming pools that hover just above ones head: we were invited to place our palms on the surface as girls splash about in the tanks. It is bizarre and unexpected, and certainly feels thrillingly precarious although it does leave you with a painful cricked neck.

There is no shortage of theatrics: smoke machines, water sprays and falling confetti are utilised constantly. After the initial euphoria and excitement, I did feel some of the acts were verging on ridiculous. With no apparent storyline, it is difficult to find reason in the performance.

Parts of the show are undeniably memorable, but I left wondering what it was all about…

Fuerzabruta continues until Sunday 2 March, book here.