BARBU: ELECTRO TRAD CABARET – Edinburgh Fringe

In Cabaret, Circus, Edinburgh Festival, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 11th August 2015

Cirque Alfonse in ‘BARBU’ IMAGE: Frédéric Barrette

The trademark beards of Cirque Alfonse are back in a new show that seems a world away from the lumberjack theme of previous hit Timber! (which, I’m sad to say, I haven’t seen).

The Electro of the title is reflected in the nightclub style set-up, complete with a prominently placed DJ (David Simard), large video screens, and the opportunity to participate in a shot downing raffle. The Trad is apparent in the acts, which include rollerskating, illusionist magic, juggling and aerial hoop, and the Cabaret, I presume, is in the set-up of unconnected numbers performed by the company, although the show lacks the direct engagement with the audience that marks a true cabaret performance for me.

I should post a disclaimer that, due to issues with Circus Hub shows timings, I miss the first few moments of the show, which may have provided a stronger set-up, and then have to leave before the finale. A lot of people will love this show as a late night entertainment but, free from any meaningful intent, it is a display of skills that, whilst accomplished, in the Edinburgh Fringe environment can be bettered elsewhere.

A Sanddorn Balance inspired routine with golf clubs that never quite gets off the ground IMAGE: Christian Bonneville

I enjoy seeing Frédéric Barrette’s images of natural phenomena – waves, fields of flowers, swarms of bees – that fill the two giant projection screens either side of the stage, thrust forward into a central ring in the manner of a Spiegeltent set-up.  They equate the performed activity to yet another aspect of nature.  I also enjoy the way the eponymous beards are worn to evoke different styles and eras – the oriental, the hipster, the colonial, the sikh, the country – and the way the live music cleverly incorporates elements of those styles into their sounds as each member of the troupe comes to the fore.

Google tells me that Barbu is also a card game, although I see no obvious connections in this production.

Cirque Alfonse IMAGE: Andrei Kalamkarov

Non-bearded (for the most part) members of the troupe are percussionist Josianne Laporte, hand-to-hand artist Geneviève Morin – who also performs the energy-raising roller-skating neck and footspins with partner Antoine Auger – and Geneviève Gauthier, who lies on a bed of nails, and flies above the stage intertwining her body with her aerial hoop with an invigorating ‘nothing I can’t do’ attitude, revealing a great speed and confidence of limb as she spins and circles.

The ladies also assist in the illusions of Lucas Jolly, who provides a comedy mysticism as an Eastern conjuror throughout the show.

As in a nightclub, there are many diversions, sometimes combining the modern big top experience and the party vibe – such as the UV streamers found under some of the audience seats to be waved during the teeterboard act, and the buying and selling of alcoholic shots, in exchange for a raffle ticket – but these distractions all combine to give a total atmosphere that is BARBU’s biggest selling point.


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Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."

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