tue 16/07/2024

Limbo, Southbank Centre | reviews, news & interviews

Limbo, Southbank Centre

Limbo, Southbank Centre

London Wonderground's erotic circus bumps and grinds

The moving parts of an S&M sales catalogue: LimboDavid Solm

Circus is a broad church these days. It can be housed on the street, a grand proscenium stage and all points in between. For this latest incendiary reinvention of the form, it makes its way back into an intimate big top where the residual DNA of circus’s regular trappings seem all to be in situ. There’s bendiness and balancing, aerobatics and good old trapezing, fire-eating (pictured below) and sword-swallowing.

But before you book for the whole family, be aware that the whole shebang is underpinned by something you never used to get at Billy Smart's: lashings - and I mean lashings - of sex.

Limbo is the centrepiece of this year’s summer-long London Wonderground festival mounted on the Southbank and arrives on clouds of glory from this year’s Adelaide Festival. Directed by Scott Maidment, Limbo styles itself as a grab-bag, with the showpiece sections budging up to make room for bits and pieces of cabaret and burlesque, tap and illusionism (supplied by Paul Kieve), and what can only be described as the moving parts of an S&M sales catalogue. And all the way through, the motif of a floating white feather (pictured below) hints that the performers may be suspended between the devil's fiery basement and a celestial otherwhere.

Any thoughts that this might be a traditional circus entertainment are swiftly postponed as, onto a raised circular stage, enters froth-maned MC Sxip Shirey growling breathy school-of-Tom-Waits nothings into a mouth organ with the help of a sousaphonist and a handheld police siren. As the three musicians retreat upstage, a man in a nine-to-five suit, apparently under hypnosis, is summoned from the audience. That idea that it could be one of us up there soon recedes as, apparently inveterbrate, Jonathan Nosan proceeds to tie himself in serpentine knots. Contortionism being a marmite skill – you either love it or find it creepy as hell - this doesn't feel like an inclusive opener.

As the six performers from various corners – Russia, France, Canada and the US – get to show off their specialisms, everywhere the erotic undercurrent is explored. Danik Abishev balances atop poles with his wrists and ankles restrained in chains. Heather Holliday licks her lips after gulping down a sword, as if performing deep throat. Evelyne Allard’s chain trapeze concludes with a strip. Mikael Bres does an acrobatic sort of pole dance. And the spectacular highlight of the show finds three bare-torsoed man performing a homoerotic ballet atop swivelling bendy poles.

In short, phwoar. Even the clowning gets down and dirty as two performers rip each other’s clothes off, only for layer upon layer of white underwear to thwart them. This is a circus as we’ve come to know it, in the raucous contemporary style of Cirque de Soleil, but downsized, x-rated and minus the plasticated corporate gleam.

But in the end, an art form reliant on certain core skills resists total reinvention. While Limbo resets the bar as a very adult entertainment, jaws don’t drop as often as they might. There are longueurs as, with extra bits of stage business, Maidment pushes the illusion that this isn’t circus as you know it. “Who do you love?” the performers sing at the climax. It’s more lust than love, and more like than lust.

  • Limbo at London Wonderground on the Southbank until 20 September

Jasper Rees on Twitter

Click to enlarge portraits of Limbo's cast

This is a circus in the raucous contemporary style of Cirque de Soleil, but downsized, x-rated and minus the plasticated corporate gleam


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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