Slapstick and strength combine for a fast-paced Friday night freak show

Photos David Jensen

Theatre review Barbu Spiegeltent Southbank Centre - credit David Jensen

You may have noticed (we certainly have) that Waterloo is currently awash with posters of burly, bearded men wearing nothing except tight pants. This is the cast of Barbu (that’s the French word for bearded), a circus troupe from Quebec who have set up camp at London Wonderground for the summer.

As well as the Spiegeltent, this self-styled adult playground comprises a three-storey bar and an array of fairground attractions. We decline a ride on the Starflyer – and feel somewhat vindicated when, two days after our visit, the fairground ride experiences technical issues, leaving 19 passengers stranded 65ft high for three hours. Fortunately, things aren’t quite so eventful down in our ringside seats.

Theatre review Barbu Spiegeltent Southbank Centre - credit David Jensen

We’re greeted by a live band, who stomp onto the stage dressed in deranged sailor attire and corsets. Before long, we’re introduced to the performers themselves: four strapping hipsters resplendent in eyeliner, two lithe ladies and a skinnier, less hirsute gentleman in heels (introduced as the ‘mentalist’ in our programme), who bears an unnerving resemblance to Michel Roux Jr.

What follows is a flurry of rollerskating, aerial displays, juggling and balancing acts. It’s fun, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s not the best I’ve witnessed either. The fact that the audience tonight isn’t particularly vocal doesn’t help, making the whole performance feel a little flat in places.

Theatre review Barbu Spiegeltent Southbank Centre - credit David Jensen

Things perk up as the clothes come off. An impressive routine sees the gang form a human pyramid while throwing kegs of beer in the air. One acrobat dresses up as a human disco ball. But my favourite moment comes when one performer’s pants are pulled down (deliberately), much to the horror of one dad sitting in the front row with two kids in tow, who spends the rest of the production hiding behind his hands. Barbu might not be anything new, but at 70 minutes long and with no interval, it’s a fun way to kick off an evening. 

Until 25 September 2016
Theatre The Spiegeltent, Southbank Centre
Hospitality Ringside seats, along with a glass of prosecco, start at £41pp. The private bar can be booked for pre- and post-performance drinks.
Eat & drink The Bloody Oyster, Skylon, The Green Room