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.

Carsten Höller, Hayward Gallery

carsten slides

As a child I always imagined having a slide from my bedroom window down to the garden…it would have been the ultimate escape route from homework or bedtime. When I first saw the curly, shiny silver slides protruding from the Hayward Gallery I remembered my childhood dream happily. This fun installation is part of the Carsten Höller exhibition currently showing at Southbank’s favourite art space.

This is the Belgian artists largest survey show in the UK to date, showcasing a range of his weird and wacky inventions. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the exhibits, in fact Höller seems to consider the viewer and their actions as part of the artwork itself. The entrance is mysterious and immediately all-consuming as you enter into a pitch black tunnel – with disconcerting turns, all you can feel is the cold steel against your desperately searching hands. I found it quite unpleasant and was pleased to emerge into the light at the other end.

The exhibition is titled ‘Decision’, a theme which continues through all the works. You must decide when and how to participate. Some works are successful others less so, as is true in most interactive exhibitions. The frequent tedious waiting in line did rather dampen the excitement in some cases. There is an opportunity to fly over the traffic in ‘Two Flying Machines’, see the world upside down with ‘Upside Down Goggles’ or experience a sixth sense in ‘The Pinocchio Effect’.

The beauty of randomness is also explored. Red and white pills drop from the ceiling in three second intervals in ‘Pill Clock’. The pills land in a pile, which guests can pick up or ignore, by the end of the exhibition there will be 1.2 million pills deposited onto the floor. In ‘Two Roaming Beds’ Höller investigates the madness of dreams. The two beds creep around the gallery, empty during the day but occupied by members of the public at night.

It is the futuristic escape route that provided the most excitement for me though. The Isomeric Slides were created as ‘a sculpture you can travel inside’. This piece of art is both aesthetic and functional as a thrilling gallery exit, swooshing you quickly back to reality after the funfair of Carsten Höller surprises.

Book ahead and be prepared to queue for the popular participation pieces.

Continues until 6 September 2015, book here.

Marriott County Hall, Southbank

Marriott County Hall has an enviable location on the edge of Southbank, overlooking the Thames and many of London’s most famous landmarks. Housed in a beautifully restored historic building which boasts impressive architecture and polished marble floors, County Hall is reminiscent of a sophisticated bygone era.

Our room was spacious but quite dated in design, decorated in browns and beiges with simple furnishings. It felt a bit like visiting a great aunt but this is all part of the vintage appeal. A lovely gift had been left for me, a box of treats including spiced pear chutney, cider mustard and strawberry jam, a statement of the hotel’s proud British heritage. The ultra-comfortable king sized bed provided a peaceful night’s sleep. The bathroom was large and functional with a lovely deep bath and Aromatherapy Essentials toiletries.

The hotel has various gym and spa facilities as well as an indoor 25 metre pool, a rare asset for a central London hotel, and definitely a selling point. There are also eleven dedicated meeting rooms, perfect for fulfilling business needs.

The restaurant, Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar is perhaps the nicest part of the hotel; with impressive views and a stylish contemporary look, it feels like it has been updated more recently than the rest of the hotel. We enjoyed a typically English meal, garlicky grilled prawns followed by the finest dry-aged Aberdeen Angus steaks. There is a huge range of steaks on offer to satisfy even the most fussy of meat fans. Various bone-in and bone-out options are available including a gigantic 1kg ‘Bull’s Head’ which I was amazed to see a small woman tackle alone on a nearby table. Our more modest fillet and sirloin steaks had a lovely depth of flavour and were cooked exactly to our specification. Truffle and Old Winchester chips are an indulgent side. The delicious Spanish wine accompanied the meat well.

Breakfast is also served in Gillray’s and looked lovely especially in the morning light. Big baskets of fruit, cereal, bread and pastries were laid out at the bar. There is an a la carte menu but we found the continental options more than adequate.

With Big Ben, the Thames and the London Eye on your doorstep, Marriott County Hall is ideal for those wishing to have  the London experience.

More information and book a stay here.