Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 20 May 2014

Limbo

London Wonderground ⋄ Until 17th August 2014

Sexy, sinewy circus.

Stewart Pringle

For the second year running the Speigeltent at the Southbank Centre is headlined by these queens and kings of sexy, sinewy new circus. The ringmaster is vocal warlock Sxip Shirey, kicking off a frequently spectacular hour of feats and routines with the wheezing beatbox stomp of his ‘I Live in New York City.’

It’s a statement of intent that twists club beats and dubstep drops around a queasy, sleazy carnival swoon. Shirey and his band play like at a demented wake in the heart of Circus Circus, and even in the moments when Limbo fails to pass under the bar it sets for itself, it’s the constantly inventive and invigorating music that keeps things rolling along.

Shirey is an incredible performer, capable of summoning tempests with his breathy whispers and army of effects pedals, but his first routine, in which he performs a kind of growling Cruciactus Curse on contortionist Jonathan Nosan gradually dips in energy and outstays its welcome, and it’s a pattern that repeats itself for much of the show’s first half. Limbo may aim grab you by the scruff with its swaggering intro, but there’s too much breathing space in the early sections, and even a stunningly original tap routine by Danik Abishev fails to ignite the furious diabolism Limbo reaches for.

Fortunately, the second half marries the company’s evident talent with the kind of compelling direction that lifts a circus show from admirable technicality to gasp-inducing wonder. Mikael Bres performs a pole routine that sees him race a single white feather from the peak of the tent to the floor, and co-opt his genitals as a sort of gravity and sanity defying braking system. The feather trick in particular hits that sweet spot between derring-do and beautifully expressive construction. Another show-stopping moment sees the company swing out over the audience on long springy poles like so many oiled, priapic Zebedees and Heather Holliday performs a fire routine that is one of the very best I’ve ever seen. Holliday also proves adept at sword-swallowing, and the sight of her throat glowing firey red as she passes a glowing neon tube down it is eye-watering.

There’s a weak vanishing illusion that feels a shade too Paul Daniels for the down and dirty image Limbo aims for, but the tone and rhythm of the second half is generally brilliant, with director Scott Maidment coming into his own with a neat balancing of jaw-dropping stunts and moments of simple beauty. Limbo may be fifteen minutes too long, but when it’s at its best it freezes time with wide-eyed wonder or pulsing sensuality.

Limbo is shock-tested for a festival crowd, and try as they might, none of the Southbank’s burgeoning pop-up projects have quite captured the vibe. You might be sitting in a beer garden in the shadow of a purple cow, but when there’s a Canary Wharf on the horizon where Arthur’s Seat should be, it’s just not that easy to let go and be swept into the dance.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

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