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> > > Review: Priceless London Wonderground present Cantina

11 July 2012

photo of female circus performer standing on her hands against a black background

Mind-whirlingly bendy Henna Kaikula performs in Cantina. Photo by Idil Sukan

Cantina is  the headline act of Priceless London Wonderground, London's largest festival of cabaret and circus.  Nicole Fordham Hodges obeyed the instruction to 'leave your real life at the door'  as she entered the gorgeous 1920s Spiegeltent. Oh, except that she took her mother along.

The Spiegeltent is beautiful, but hard to access, with a series of shallow wooden steps difficult to spot even for those without visual impairment.

'Get comfortable on the edge of your seats.' says Nara Demasson as, moustached and with chocolate voice, he begins to sing the spell of the 1930s setting: glamorously faded romance, violent whimsy, strangely innocent decadence.

From the beginning, the spell works. Who cares if, historically, we are balanced on a tightrope between two world wars? The first tightrope act sets us up for a night where the impossible is possible, and even violence has innocence. Daniel Catlow works his lithe magic, then flashes an impossible smile directly at my mother. Or so she claims. Chelsea McGuffin charms the wire, as she slinks along it it in silver stilettos with ankle socks.

Stilettos with ankle socks: a strange mixture of sexual and childlike which characterises the show. Mind-whirlingly bendy Henna Kaikula makes the faux-naive charming as she twists herself like a doll and twists the audience round her bendy fingers. Chelsea McGuffin is thrown though the air and caught like a flying infant, before she walks in very pointy stilettos over the tender parts of  a nearly naked David Carberry to audible winces from the audience.

Mozes is hooded for a ropetrick which makes my own heart spin and drop. He twirls from a noose and lands in one muscular, sinister, gorgeous piece.

Yes, the themes have a sado-masochistic edge. But when Mozes performs his naked newspaper trick to the comic jiggling of his private parts, it's more naughty than sexual. I glance at my mother but she's smiling.

The skill of these performers unites the audience in communal gasping and opened-mouthed wonder. How? Why? How could anyone? It leaves reviewers hunting for synonyms for 'astonishing'.

The cartoon like violence of the acrobatics between the three men does hint at the historical context: it's accompanied by a discordant call to arms on the soundtrack. Then again, 'Happy days are here again' sings Demasson in his velvet voice. 

The act doesn't fall down in any sense of the word, at any point. This is really a place where it is safe to be at the extreme edge of daring.  With humour, freshness, and a skill which is indeed 'astonishing' these five gorgeous performers let us experience this edge as somewhere exhilarating. And you might even be able to take your mother.
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Cantina runs until 30 September, as part of the Priceless London Wonderground at the Southbank Centre's Festival of the World'

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