BWW Reviews: LIMBO, London Wonderground, May 20 2013
In this latest piece commissioned by the Southbank Centre after the success of Cantina's season last year, music, dance and incredibly highly-skilled traditional circus acts (performed with streetwise panache) are integrated into an awe-inspiring spectacle.
LIMBO is ideally suited to the pavilion space - the 1920s-style Spiegeltent - of the pop-up LonDon Wonderground, where its truly international cast of acrobats bring a taste of the exotic to the banks of the Thames.
Its six-strong ensemble includes multi-talented aerialists, fire-eaters, hand-dancers and contortionists - and they also all contribute to the music, too. Between them they add singing, a guitar, tap sequences and a piano accordion solo to to New York Musical Director Sxip Shirey's score. His live band of three musicians provides an eccentric soundtrack throughout, playing an assortment (the programme boasts) of over fifty instruments, among them toys and household objects. The suzaphone has terrific stage presence.
LIMBO touches on some of the quirks and fetishes of contemporary cabaret performance, but it does so with the lightness of touch and good humour of traditional family circus entertainment, and this unusual blend is its charm. Bowler hat and cane dance routines sit happily alongside hair-raising balancing acts featuring clinking bondage chains. And just as you are starting to wonder whether the two scantily-clad women are just there for totty, one of them swallows a couple of swords and breathes fire so hot it could be felt it in the fourth row.
The show is genuinely frightening (I clocked my nearest emergency exit early on). But it is also very funny and not just because of the bald recklessness of the performers; there is also some humorous choreography - winks, slapstick, petty jealousies enacted through dance - and some startling illusions, which I won't spoil.
This thrill-seeker's pattern of suspense and relief drives LIMBO, but plenty of its momentum comes from its theatricality too: Director Scott Maidment plays intelligently with circus archetypes, creating well-developed, sympathetic characters out of stock figures. The same goes for routines which, while comprising all the essential ingredients of circus, are tirelessly inventive.
Circus might seem full of familiar motifs, but in the hands of the LIMBO cast and creatives these have been given a new lease of life, and make for an entertaining show with plenty in it to get your heart racing.