The whole set up of the Southbank Underbelly site feels a bit surreal; a mushroom garden with colourful lanterns, a bar that looks like it has been lifted from a Western, dodgems as outdoor seating, and oh yes, the gigantic upside-down purple cow. Therefore walking into the Wonderground’s Spiegeltent tent to see the freakish circus, Cantina, did not disappoint.
The production of Scott Maidment and Chelsea McGuffin’s Cantina takes place in the round, with the audience sitting ‘ringside’ to the action. Initially onlookers are presented with an old time 1920’s style busking band playing tunes on antiquated instruments. The music then continues throughout the piece, providing a backing to a procession of tense physical tricks. This seating arrangement was a theatrical aid to the piece as part of the joy of watching the show was witnessing other audience members shocked reactions to ‘tricks’ which heightened both moments of tension and comedy. This was particularly apparent during moments of full frontal (yes FULL frontal) nudity, during which each onlookers face turned as red as the clown nose pulled from various parts of an ensemble members anatomy.
The aesthetic of the production was true to the dusty 20’s feel of the Spiegeltent, with gentlemen in waistcoats and comb-overs and ladies in a slightly moth-eaten elegance. There was dancing on pianos, sipping from champagne bottles, corsets, fishnet tights couples with frilly knickers and the odd violent brawl. This show reeked of decadence and sexual tension and the audience, on the whole, lapped it up.
The acts, all seeming to centre on themes of desire and fantasy, were real nail biting, hold your breath, squint your eyes sort of tricks, with one ensemble member practically hanging himself in a noose from the ceiling. The performances had the potential to look and feel excruciating, as cast members flexed on broken glass or walked a tightrope in a pair of glittery heels. There was a real and extremely raw element of danger to the goings on as all acts were performed without safety nets or harnesses. Yes they were very impressive, but mostly I was hoping that I would not see someone die.
It would be impossible for an audience member not to be effected by the action, even if it is just to squirm at the cracking of bones or to feel the urge to duck and cover when an acrobat without a safety net flies over their head. This show is not for the fainthearted or easily offended, however Cantina is a circus or, what with all the unnatural bending, a freak show at it’s physical finest.