Barbu review: A sexy, hairy and acrobatic exploration of the history of circus

Steve Hogarty
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Cirque Alfonse in Barbu, at the Spiegeltent (Source: David Jensen)

★★★★★ | Spiegeltent, London Wonderground

An acrobatic circus and dance act from the most hirsute recesses of Quebec, Barbu dismantles preconceived notions of masculinity and then rebuilds them into something new using hula hoops, see-saws, ribbons and swings.

Several large, beautiful men cavort and spin about the stage, like lumberjacks trapped in a salad spinner, performing gravity-defying feats of strength and balance to an intoxicating, industrial trance-folk beat. Wordlessly, the bearded men juggle cups, beer kegs and one another in a flowing series of dance numbers, magic shows and routines that chart a raucously entertaining course through circus history. The result resembles Cirque du Soleil as performed by an enigmatic troupe of east London baristas.

Much of it is sheer physical spectacle: at one point the four men combine, Power Rangers style, into a beardy Megazord, with one man supporting three more above his head. They later cling to a dance pole to create what can only be described as a man-kebab, slowly rotating around the spit in an impressive display of core strength. At one stage a man wears a disco ball.

There are mesmerising performances from women too, particularly impressive is one dancer’s dizzying stunts atop a flying aerial hoop, whizzing high above an astonished audience.

There’s a thoughtful exploration of manliness to be found in Barbu if you search for it. Certainly it has a homoerotic edge, but Barbu is way too silly and fun to ever feel all that sexual; it’s a show in which burly strongmen aren’t afraid to behave playfully with other men, to sing children’s songs and play games in their pants. The very concept of manhood is shaken by their constant backflips and I love it.

An electrifying and sweat-filled cabaret, Barbu is the strangest and sexiest show you’ll see all summer. A hot treat.