Thursday, 16 August 2012

Theatre Review: 17 August

Leave your real life at the door – and enter the weird world of Cantina

Written by Gillian Spickermell


Don't be put off by the hype surrounding Cantina. It's all as good as they say it is. As you enter London Wonderground's crazy, mesmerising theatrical show in Jubilee Gardens on London's Southbank, you can't help but feel the buzz of anticipation.

Amid an old-fashioned funfair by the Thames, complete with maze, roller coaster and a terrifying ride called Starflyer, is a 1920s-style circus tent or Spiegeltent. Inside its red-and-gold striped interior, all is warm and cosy. Seats surround a raised stage, which projects into the audience like a catwalk.

The crowd buzzes with excitement. We're going to be so close to these performers we can almost touch them – but what are we going to see?

The answer comes soon enough. A man casually nips up on to a high wire strung across the stage. At the back are piano, guitar, accordion and ukulele. Music strikes up and a woman with attitude, fishnets and a floral dress, joins her man on the wire in silver stilettos. Yes, that's right, stilettos.

The audience falls silent – willing her not to fall. She doesn't, thankfully, but we're hooked, gripped. We want more. And for the next hour, that's what we get. Act after inventive act, each unique, each impeccably performed, each imaginative and original.

Cantina knows how to change the pace, shift the mood. There's no specific narrative, just a small group of seven performers dressed as if in some sort of 1920s vaudeville act. You marvel as they escape from situations the rest of us would just blanch at.

The links between acts are subtle – the woman on the wire fi nally, nonchalantly, drops her 4in stilettos on to a passing waiter's drinks tray. The tension disperses. The pace changes. Three men and two girls burst into the Charleston – dazzling with energy and the music's infectious rhythm.

All human life is here, distilled into moments of striking theatrical poetry – a girl balancing on one hand to the quiet strains of a guitar. A couple's fury erupting against Argentine tango.

Part circus, part cabaret, part vaudeville, there are so many spellbinding moments of beauty, cruelty and humour, that you leave the tent reeling. Cantina's only an hour long, but it makes a hard act for real life to follow.

Cantina contains nudity and simulated violence. Until 30 September as part of Priceless London Wonderground, London SE1: 0844-545 8282,

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