An impossibly bendy acrobat balances one-handed on a bar stool over broken glass; a blindfolded man spirals, suspended only by the neck, over the hushed audience; a woman in five inch stilettos walks a tight rope and later climbs over a man’s naked torso. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Cantina.
In a circus tent just a few yards from London’s busy Southbank, the atmosphere is strangely quiet: the audience are unsure whether to clap, everyone is holding their breath. This isn’t circus for the family – it’s masochistic and fetishistic, at times humorous, but always dark. Light relief comes in the form a brief skit involving male full-frontal nudity.
At just over an hour long, there is never any danger of the show becoming boring or repetitive – although the slight impression of a narrative suggests a pre-emptive strategy for avoiding this. Instead, I could feel myself becoming slightly blasé at the superhuman feats of the performers, always expecting something bigger, stranger, crueller as the performance continued. Perhaps this was part of the point.
Some acts were more successful than others and because of my view, I preferred the aerial sequences. Occasionally the soundtrack jarred but my reservations were minor and I can see why audiences will keep flocking in. Not only is Cantina engaging and polished, it is also incredibly fashionable, with its low-key 1920s aesthetic and self-conscious theatricality.
For me, the production combined the spectacle of circus with the intimacy of a small cast drama. The athleticism on show matches that we’ve seen in Stratford all summer, but, in this case, I’d hesitate to recommend trying this at home.
Cantina will be performed at the Southbank Centre until 30th September. Tickets start at £25.