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Barbu (London Wonderground, London): Review

Barbu Where does disco? Antoine Carabinier Lepine in 'Barbu'. Photograph: Courtesy of David Jensen.

Bat-shit beardy fun, Barbu is unexpected, underdressed, and unhinged. Hysterical circus that will put some hairs on your face.

Cirque Alfonse bring their new show, Barbu, to London, blending traditional circus with couture kitsch and kink.


Tour de Phwoar! The cast of ‘Barbu’. Photograph: Courtesy of David Jensen.


Five burly men in small black briefs and big beards: why this circus appeals to me, I couldn’t possibly say. But none the less it’s been an event I’ve been excited about for a while. “Barbu” is Canadian French for “beard”, which the core five male performers most definitely have and they are almost as impressive as their circus skills. After their dangerously lumbersexual Timber! last year, the circus heaven for pogonophiles is set to make things get hairy at the London Wonderground spiegeltent. Barbu sets out to explore traditional circus tropes like the teeter board, bearded ladies, mentalism, magic, and juggling, whilst mixing in more modern and mad-cap performance and acrobatics.

Barbu is a show who’s tongue is very much in cheek, taking and embracing these traditional circus aesthetics but sending them up in kinky, kitsch, and glorious fun. But it doesn’t start that way from the outright. The start of Barbu is acrobatically impressive but feels standard and familiar but for the surreal visuals projected onto screens. As the show goes on, things start to get weirder and more and more unhinged, until the finale culminates in some of the most unexpected and unfettered pieces of high flying fun.

There is also a wonderfully queer lilt to Barbu as well. Whilst it’s definitely homoerotic, it’s also unabashedly gender-bending with key performers wearing colourful make-up, dressed as glitter balls, or wearing some rather platform stunning heels! It’s a bold and brassy approach that really serves its look and feel of total hedonism. But that’s not to say it’s “gay” circus. For starters, there are female performers in the troupe that are just as competent, astonishing and seductive to watch as their male counterparts. It’s an enticing, twisted, and trouser-tightening outlook that sets to thrill, titillate, and prick a dangerous sense of taboo whilst it tumbles and bounds around the stage with unmatched vivacity.


Man kebab. The cast of ‘Barbu’. Photograph: Courtesy of David Jensen.

With this, there is plenty of comedy too. There are many moments in Barbu that will have you laughing out loud whilst simultaneously being stunned by some incredibly impressive circus skills. This is so much so that you become so disorientated through you amusement and from the left-field tricks and timbre you get completely lost as to know where the show is heading or what’s going to happen next. Barbu is one of the most hilarious, naughty, and dynamic evenings of circus like you’re likely to see in your lifetime.

Direction & Production

Underbelly productions and Cirque Alfonse are a brilliant partnership. Though it might look on the surface that Barbu isn’t quite as lavishly produced as previous shows like Limbo or Scotch & Soda, it by no means means that it’s gotten the short straw. Alain Francoeur’s direction really pushes the pace throughout Barbu but also takes time to slam on the breaks for some of the more bizarre moments to create the sense of uncertainty that sets up the latter half of the show’s outrageous  energy. Then, though Frédéric Barrette and Lionnel Dechamps’s video work at the beginning of the show seems a little superfluous, it really come into their own when all hell breaks loose, adding a real sense of deviant surreality that fuels the craziness on stage, adding an unusual scenic element to the tent-storming circus.

The live music composed and performed by André Gagné and David Simard, joined by Josianne Laporte, is absolutely brilliant and pours verve into Barbu as if the world depended on it. Quirky, folky, and brimming with as much vagary and wit as the show itself, it’s an integral and fizzing part of Barbu that just wouldn’t be the same without it.


Somewhere over the rainbow streamers. The cast of ‘Barbu’. Photograph: Courtesy of David Jense.


Cirque Alfonse are simply exceptional: every performer completely stuns the audience in every act. Even comic relief of Lucas Jolly, although sometimes baffling, shows he’s as sharp a performer as they come, helping to drive Barbu’s insane octane. Acts to look out for is the rollerskating opener, a beer barrel busting feat of strength and balance, and a teeter board spectacular that’s almost too big for the spiegeltent. They’re all risky, pulse-quickening, and dangerous: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What’s most captivating about Cirque Alfonse is the amount of fun they always seem to be having. They’re sexy, funny, crazy, kinky, cool and you can’t help but become intoxicated by their hyperactive infection, let alone be gobsmacked by their superhuman skills. In essence Cirque Alfonse have managed to make Justin Trudeau look mundane and conservative by comparison.


Beards out, weird’s out! Barbu is thick, lustrous, and completely bonkers. The sexiest, tastiest, and most jaw-dropping exported Canadian phenomenon since Ryan Reynolds got covered in maple syrup.

Barbu plays at London Wonderground, London, SE1 8XX until 25 September 2016. Tickets are from £26. To book, visit
This review was made possible by Theatre Bloggers. For more information about the group, please visit

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