London’s appetite for vaudevillian chic and cabaret kitsch seems unwavering but Cantina, the capital’s newest offering, has raised the bar and given the pastime a darker twist.
Wonder down to the Southbank and head past the inflatable purple cow – the surreal tent is happily now a familiar sight come summertime – and you’ll find yourself heading back in time to an age when the carnival coming into town was the biggest event of the year and wearing hats was a necessity. Abandoned dodgem cars serve as tables and vintage-clad staff wait to welcome you into the big top.
So far, so La Soirée. But if the glittery crew of that particular eccentric troupe were the popular kids in circus school, always ready for the next disco, the Cantina gang were the misfits, more interested in playing with broken glass and swigging cheap champagne straight from the bottle. If Tim Burton had created a circus, it might look a bit like this.
Each of the six performers swap between jaw-dropping acrobatics, sublimely choreographed dance numbers and the occasional sadomasochist performance, and providing the music, playing a range of quirky instruments from a bass made out of a suitcase to a variety of kitchen implements.
While the feats on show – which to say too much about would spoil the show – are hold-your-breath impressive, the joy of Cantina lies in its spontaneity and unpolished delivery. Nothing is sanitised; from the performances themselves, which include full nudity and seemingly a total lack of health and safety, to their appearance; the women dressed in subtly jaded dresses and ripped fishnets, the men and grubby suits, both with tattoos and bruises on full show underneath their vintage garb.
Where these bruises might have come from is also explored. More than just a circus performance, a dark storyline runs through each individual skit hinting at warped gender power games. In two stand-out dances, the girls’ inhuman contortionist skills are employed for shadier means as the slight but strong males push them around. But in this show, the women always fight back and usually win. If a man can walk the tight rope, there’s usually a woman waiting in the wings to show him how it’s done in five inch heels.
Cantina is definitely one for the adults. Packed full of blindfolds and women quite literally walking over men, fetish is the name of the game. But set to the honky tonk piano and with a healthy dose of silly entertainment, Cantina is packed with a Gallic charm and is good clean – albeit sexy – fun.