Sydney Opera House until 4th March, 2017.
Performance on 16th February reviewed by Bill Stephens.
Four beefy, bearded blokes, two apparently boneless women and three talented multi- instrumentalists make up the cast of this quirky, clever “nouveau cirque” show. Between them, they display an extraordinary array of physical skills, including reckless roller-skating, spitting ping-pong balls at each other, bouncing on teeter boards, and balancing heavy metal beer kegs which spray beer in all directions.
Taking its name from the French word meaning bearded, “Barbu” originated in Quebec, and harkens back to the origins of circus in Montreal when bearded locals would show off their circus skills in fairgrounds. Indeed for much of the first half of the show, the men’s costumes and demeanour suggest lumberjacks, and the physical skills like handkerchief and hat juggling, hint at their origins.
However when the men strip to their speedos (and occasionally beyond) the show really heats up, and their acrobatic skills and feats of strength are pushed to extraordinary lengths which seem even scarier when performed in such close proximity to their audience.
Strikingly original in concept, “Barbu” is slickly choreographed and performed dead-pan, except for an occasional wink here and there. It’s punctuated with dance and vocal sequences performed by the whole ensemble, on a small circular stage at the end of a catwalk. The audience surrounds the action on three sides, while large television screens positioned above their heads, display abstract scenes with which the performers sometimes interact. The three-piece band pumps out evocative Klezmer-style music to accompany the action as show becomes ever more surreal.
Integral parts of the ensemble, the two women perform an erotic contortionist duet, join in the action on various apparatus, including trapeze and poles, or are tossed nonchalantly between the men. A beefy guy clad in a mirror-ball spins around the stage in a huge hula hoop. A fakir performs magic tricks involving a live guinea pig, and a two-headed sword-swallower. At one point he’s encased in a large punching bag to become the target for cream pies hurled by an audience member.
Expect the unexpected from this show. It offers a wild ride through contemporary electro trad cabaret which is brilliantly performed, continuously entertaining, often sexy and always surprising.
This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au