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BWW Reviews: TIMBER!, Queen Elizabeth II Hall, Southbank Centre, July 11 2013

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Looking like the long lost Canadian brothers of Swedish footballer, Olof Mellberg, three heavily bearded lumberjacks and their womenfolk, their grandfather and even a toddler have assembled in a barn for an evening of backwoods entertainment. Using what they can find: logs; saws; axes; and traditional instruments like ukeleles and accordions, they are soon tumbling, juggling and balancing as the barn becomes a ring. There are songs too, albeit in French, but beautifully rendered - one almost feels the pine needles beneath one's feet.

Timber! isn't just about the timber of its title, though there's plenty of that, it's also about its aesthetic. There are no sparkly leotards, no tiny oriental girls to top out a five man pyramid, no grim-faced super-slick execution of skills. But what's lost in the clockwork-like world-touring cirques is gained in the spectacle of big men twisting and turning to leap and land on a narrow branch of a tree, in the sight of a talented dancer wearing clogs to cavort on a rope, of a old clown sent flying through the air. The sweating, testosterone-soaked atmosphere is offset by this charming lack of sophisticationand it marks Cirque Alfonse as something different - and rather special.

If the skills of Jonathan Casaubon - who manages to be both an imposing physical presence and an acrobat of featherlight movement - catch the eye and his partner Julie Carabinier-Lepine catches the ear with her singing, it's her father Alain Carabinier who steals the show. His clowning is traditional, but never tinged with the malevolence that can grate, and his timing superb in both the pratfalls and the teasing.

With the whole cast on stage for all 90 minutes without an interval, the show must be immensely demanding for all concerned, but this extended family keeps the pace high and the wow factor in play from start to finish. It's a show that finds a home for a 66-year-old grandfather and a 2-year-old toddler - and it's splendid entertainment for everyone aged 2 to 66 too!

Timber! continues at the Southbank Centre until 31 July.


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