Monday, 24 August 2015

Highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe - Day 1: Barbu


After Elephant in the Room, it was time to unwind with Montreal-based Cirque Alfonse's Barbu: Electro trad cabaret, a show that headlined Donald Hutera's circus round-up in The Times. A series of pranks, simple clowning around and highly skilled tricks. Not rocket science. Familiar with the  great reception of their last show Timber! on the Southbank, for me these guys are the lumberjacks of the circus world, delivering comedy straight up, along with a (much appreciated) sambuca shot and raffle ticket, in a horny, carny fin-de-siecle sideshow vein.

I missed the very beginning where they are apparently roller-skating in a circle holding onto each other's beards, but I did see a girl, I think, being flung around by the ankles - seems to be a recurrent theme, to which I'll return later. I take my seat. I saw a ball being bounced on a bearded head, that reminded me of a circus seal, and some neat club juggling follows. There was some brilliant hand to hand balancing and teeterboard tricks, and I loved the guy in the giant glitter ball doing a great Cyr wheel routine. I also liked the comedy of the pseudo-sanddorn routine where a guy is balancing golf sticks, only for them to be knocked out of his hand each time he makes any real progress. In the background two giant screens show elements of Canada - presumably - sheaves of wheat, beehives, flowers.

As I understand it the electro refers to the show's music score, and for me watching their female drummer, Josianne Laporte, thrashing away was a real highlight. Maybe confusing the reputation slightly with La Meute, I assumed this was a circus of men and hadn't expected to see any female circus performers. There are two in the cast, who come across as girls with attitude, strong enough to lie on a bed of nails as a human chopping block and spin with superhuman speed on an aerial hoop, but some have argued they are treated simply accessories. Are they? I am well aware that Cirque Alfonse pulls no punches in its determination not to bow to prissy political correctness, but I for one am glad they axed the part of the show where the girls mud wrestle while a third whips them on. A (male) friend of mine rang me afterwards to say that while he enjoyed the show overall, he was disturbed by the way one of the girls was bundled like a piece of meat into the box for the old school (trad) disappearing girl routine. She emerged later wearing little more than a beard and a pair of pasties, though for me that was an ironic nod to hirsute lady of yore and in keeping with the cabaret element and the (side)show.

I have to say I did not enjoy watching the arrogant bearded guru "Lukas Ze Mentaliste",  "get what's coming to him" rigged up in a punching bag as a latter day stocks and pie magnet, but then as someone who'll happily take aim at the Dads volunteering as targets at the local school fair, am I not being a bit of a wet sponge here myself? At the end of the day, I really enjoyed Barbu - its Québecois folk music and wide variety of acts, with interesting idiosyncratic twists. Anarchic, irreverant, hairy, lairy fun.

See for yourself: 9.50pm at Underbelly's Circus Hub The Meadows. Click here for tickets

Do check out Donald Hutera's circus round up if you subscribe to The Times on-line - it contains fascinating information on the background to Cirque Alfonse:

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