Summer is about fun, and Underbelly Productions is bringing it to London.
While most of us have dreary jobs, at, oh, let’s say, a slaughterhouse, an offshore oil rig, the RNC, the people at Underbelly Productions run festivals and events across the UK that give the public a chance to see improvised musicals, cabaret, circus acts, something called “laser ass aerial performance” and any number of hilarious standup comedians. Beats working at the 7-11.
Founded in 2000 by directors Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood to host a show at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival, Udderbelly produces and promotes live shows that tour around the world. For the summer crowds in London, they offer two concurrent festivals snuggled up against each other on the quirky concrete area bordering the Thames, the Southbank. There’s Udderbelly Festival – mostly comedy-based shows held in a massive purple tent that resembles an upside-down cow (naturally), and Wonderground – the more cabaret, circus and burlesque-y shows – going on next door, combining for over 65 different acts. Intriguingly, both festivals offer children’s entertainment, with the tantalizing taste of danger that comes with booking your family’s tickets for a show simply based upon its title. Quick tip: don’t take easily offended kids to anything claiming to be a Gameshow, Bingo, or “Funz and Gamez”.
Udderbelly runs until July 19. You’ve just missed the popular A Simple Space, a delight for anyone who remembers the Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan’s appearances on Wide World of Sports (Google it, kids). The space is filled with eight performers doing gymnastics and backflips, with games, strip jumprope challenges thrown in to keep things saucy and puzzles that turn into tricks that turn into… it’s hard to describe and a wonder to watch.
Much more to come, though, in June, especially from comedians like Katherine Ryan: Glam Role Model. The sarcastic, culture-obsessed London-based Canadian may be the woman of the moment in the comedy world. She more than held her own while opening for Chelsea Handler last year (19th and 20th June).
For funny self-help from the self-proclaimed “white Oprah” (didn’t Dina Lohan already try to take that moniker?), check out Mark Dolan: Ten Things You Need to Know About Life (10th June), and to scratch the itch of dark humor, there’s Phil Ellis’ hour-long child-interactive Funz and Gamez (31st May and 20th-21st June), described by The Guardian as anarchic, delinquent and “gleefully insensitive to children”. Can’t wait to see this one.
This year’s London Wondergound Festival runs through 27th September. Expect to meet mysterious showgirls, acrobats and late night eccentrics at Black Cat Cabaret: Nocturne, as operatic drama meets circus high skills in this eye-catching theatrical production (through 11th September).
Much more daytime friendly are The Puppini Sisters (29th July – 12th August), one of the festivals better known acts. The three-person swing-pop group has won tons of awards, wowed on Graham Norton and other television programs last year, and have fans as diverse as Michael Buble and, allegedly, Prince Charles. And fans of spoken word, storytelling and improvisation will get one chance to see Tongue Fu (16th September).
Celebrate American Independence by attending opening night of The Double R Club, (4th July through 1st August) a complex and decadent cabaret that wants you to know, going in, they describe themselves as dark and “David Lynchian”, so maybe not the best first date with that Yank you met the week before.
Or maybe it’s the perfect first date…
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.