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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!







Photo by Conan Whitehouse


Priceless London Wonderground's inaugural season at Southbank Centre

Underbelly Productions, Southbank Centre and Strut and Fret present

Featuring a company of Austrailia’s finest Circus artists from Circa, La Clique, Acrobat and Circus Oz


Wonderground at the Udderbelly
8 May - 30 September 2012

If I was to call Cantina a smashing circus, you’d think I was into cliché. Yet, despite the paradoxes inherent to circus, it quickly smashes all pre-conceived notions relating to that shape - shifting art!

As its posters suggest, Cantina is sexy and surprising, but it’s also fun, suspenseful, cryptic, daring, dangerous and downright exciting! It’s a refreshingly pared back circus, reliant on unimaginable focus on the part of its performers, generating its own brand of offbeat infectiousness, as the audience hangs on every their move and gesture. It’s a unifying force too, as we all ooohed, aahed and winched together, despite multiple language barriers. With Cantina, that’s easy, as it’s wordless, apart from its great songs.

Once I’d staked out a ‘Posh’ seat, with its big, glossy programme, I waited for the show to begin in what seemed like a Depression era speakeasy. A little box-car rolled across a tightrope not ten feet in front of me, blaring music I know from my late grandmother’s kitchen sink repertoire. A couple of fit young gals with bobs, in 30’s dresses that’d seen better days lounged near a slightly beat up piano down front, while a guy with his shirt sleeves rolled tickled the ivories. All very intriguing and the show hadn’t even begun.

‘Show starts in 5 minutes’ a little sign on the car said. The air was so full of excitement you could spread it with a trowel! A big blonde lady rushed to a seat next to my husband and plopped down, panting. When she spoke, I remembered guys I’d met on a night bus to New Jersey years ago who offered me vodka – in a bottle. By the time a man with a moustache stepped into the spotlight, ukulele in hand, crooning ‘I’d Shoot the Moon’, big banged up bass plugging along, we were definitely in a circus mood.

It’s great to be balanced, but Chelsea Mc Guffin and Henna Kaikula take balance to unprecedented extremes!  Whether performing in turns with David Carberry and/or Daniel Catlow, each of whom is talented beyond measure in a number of circus arts, (some of which I’d never even imagined), or, on their own, both test the nerves with wide-ranging stretches of imagination. And yes, Chelsea Mc Guffin really walks a tightrope in platform stilettos! Likewise, double jointed Kalkula boggles minds as she gives deceptively glib Betty Boop squeals, feet splaying out in all the wrong directions early on, further along in this intense, mesmerizing the audience with her blend of steely skill and concentration.

There were times when I thought Cantina was a real woman’s circus, as the gals in the show invariably trump the guys, hands down. But that’s doubtless just another of the many ways it subverts the norm.

Brawny, dust bowl debonair David Carberry should, by rights, be covered with scars and bruises, but his heaving chest remained unscathed after he was literally, walked on…Was it mind over matter? Whatever it was, I think we’d all like to know what his secret is! Carberry’s sturdy combination of grace and athleticism is truly, enviable, as it is likewise, in relation to co-tumbler/dancer/balancer, and, tightrope walker, Daniel Catlow, who, though slightly smaller than Carberry is generally the ‘bad guy’ in their very physical onstage confrontations. That said, Carberry tumbles and falls like nobody’s business, and the bangs you hear when he does are not sound effects!

In one tense moment, I wondered if Houdini was in the house… I won’t say why and spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that Mozes, who appears on the show’s posters with an impish grin and a switch blade in his hand, has a lot of nerve, in more ways than one! I hadn’t seen any death-defying acts in a circus since the big cat days, but during his second solo spot, my breath was part of the collective one being held. The Russian gal next to us added laughs to Mozes bawdy newspaper stunt, shouting out ‘I love it!’

But any pie in the sky notions about the romance of circus are are quickly brought down to earth in this show, despite the sentimentality of its Depression era songs, played with a real live vibe by Nara Demasson and friends, which include the multi-tasking cast of this topsy turvy, rough and ready circus.

The theme of Cantina, with its live, late 20’s early 30’s music, blend of period and tawdry glam clothes and filmic/moody sound-scapes is evocative to say the least, not to mention fitting in these allegedly austere, increasingly DIY times. As a fan of both Steinbeck and Guthrie, as in Woody, I found the tone more than apt, and the songs, i.e. ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ timeless classics, much like Cantina itself.

During the show, everyone in the audience seemed perched on the edge of their seats, either admiring or worrying about performers, or both, as each put themselves on the line just that one more time. Amazing feats of strength, agility and diversity drew cheers, as did a frantic Charleston by the company in perfect, unstoppable unison, to rip roaring live musical accompaniment and a rough house tango, played out by Mc Guffin and Carberry with enough pointed twists to make your hair stand on end!

I’ve been a huge fan of sawdust and tinsel since I was a kid in a canvas tent, and I've seen many circuses from round the world in big tops and halls since then, so I thought I knew it well. But happily, when I went to Wonderground for this show, I found that there were still more to discover and enjoy. Don’t wilt in the sweltering heat when you can join the gob-smacked throng in Spiegeltent for ultra-cool Cantina!

Photo by Idlil Sukan

For further information please visit
Prices: £50 £40 £35 £25 £20 £15 £12.50 £103
Booking Fee: £1.75 (Members £0.00)
Concessions: 50% off (Limited Availability) Concessions restricted to Stalls only
Duration: Approximately One Hour
Suitable for 18 years and over. Show contains nudity and simulated violence.


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