While this tip off to a very good night out is specifically for Barbu, the self-described “daring, daft and sexy as hell” acrobatics-as-theatre production, formed in Quebec but now presented in London, take it as well as a general endorsement for what the Underbelly Festival is doing for the nightlife of London. During the clement months, the few Londoners have had this year, this circus takes over the South Bank and transforms a cement-heavy designated urban artspace into a carnival of tents, trees, stages, nooks and crannies of food vendors and picnicky spots, nestled along the Thames and in the shade of the London Eye. All of a sudden, you are transported from the London of your workday stuffy-tube nightmares into a hip version of LegoLand, all within arm’s reach of Waterloo.
Udderbelly, Spiegeltent, Barbu – these are real words?
Pop Culture Beast had the good fortune to stick a toe in and see Barbu, one of the cabaret shows happening nightly in the Udderbelly Speigeltent.
Packed with gasp-enducing acrobatics, a tuneful Montreal vibe courtesy of a sailor man who sang sea shanties (is there such a thing as a land shanty?) mournfully throughout and a bunch of men with an abundance of muscles and beards, this is cabaret but not as you know it. Oh, sorry to assume, just how up on steam-punk French Canadian acrobatic acts are you these days?
The burly hipster boys are in first gear at the beginning; they tumble about and rollerskate quite harmlessly. As cheerful as the welcome may be, and as enthusiastic as the crowd as well, you may well sit in your seats and think, oh, okay, a bunch of fit friends from Canada, with a couple of enthusiastic ladies, all having a good time, that’s nice. If you happen to be in the Ringside seats, you will get the in your face effect of a human being swung your way, but it’s all fine, and fun, but nothing to make you sit up in your seat.
Now it gets good…
Get your drink before the second act, because the tempo is about to change. There is no hard and fast break in the action, per se, but a nicely sung Quebecois song (something about friendship, love and song, according to my rusty highschool French) fills a quasi-intermission and signals a sea change, if you will, amongst the troupe. As acknowledged by my date and I, the gay factor goes up by a factor of twelve and the second act – again, my parlance not theirs – is more crazy, intense and hilarious than the first.
In their fourth season, Wonderground know what they are doing, and need to be on the tourists’ list of things to do in London. The location offers tasty food options, hilarious and bawdy shows, some carnival rides, and a great view of the river. In fact, perhaps the biggest recommendation I could give in attending Barbu and Udderbelly is, Londoners, you won’t feel like you’re in London.
through September 25th www.cirquealfonse.com
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.