I was invited to see Cirque Alfonse’s “Timber!” performance on the 21st December in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. The performance was described as a “lumberjack circus” so I was interested to see how they would manage to bring everything together.
The Circus was established in 2005 by Antoine Carabinier Lépine and his sister Julie Carabinier Lépine to honour their father, Alain Carabinier (who also features prominently in the show). They say that it is to thank him for all his sacrifices for and investment in their careers. Most of the cast members are part of or linked to this family, including Julie’s partner (Jonathan Casaubon) and their young son (Arthur – who at three years old already shows skill at balancing). Throughout the performance, there is a strong sense that the members of the troupe are genuinely enjoying themselves; honest smiles and some beautiful synchronisation emphasise the close-knit, family feel to this whole production.
This circus reflects the woodland town, Saint-Alfonse-Rodriguez in Quebec, where Antoine and his family are from. So scrap the ribbon, hoops, silk and replace with rope, logs and wagon wheels. Forget the lycra, plimsolls and make-up and don dungarees, work boots and bushy beards. Finally, lose the juggling balls, spinning disks and batons and replace with juggling axes, timber saws and whips. These elements are what make this Circus unique. That being said, this is not a show of amateur lumberjacks messing around. The acrobatics are sharp and refined. The acrobats leap through saws bent into different shapes and backflip whilst balancing on a bendy tree branch. The performances can also be beautiful such as the ‘rope swing-dance’ where Jonathan and Julie perform a mesmerising routine of aerial tricks and holds. The “sitting on the edge of your seat” factor is not lost either when you see two performers juggling axes while one stands piggy-in-the-middle, the axes seemingly only just missing his face, or when you see an acrobat leaping into a hold position on his two colleagues, who are already in hold, balancing on a log - an impressive feat of strength. Interspersed with these incredible routines, the cast sing folk songs and play banjos, acoustic guitars, and violins while pots, pans and wooden boxes are used for percussion. Short yet comic acting sequences create a simple but effective transition from each scene, with such interludes including the family chopping vegetables by throwing potatoes at another person holding a knife, or the local lads being outwitted by the grandfather figure Alain when they try pestering him in the ‘privy’.
The performance lasts for an hour and a half (without an interval) so probably isn’t ideal for very young children. However, the children who attended this performance were utterly transfixed by the show. It is a highly engaging performance, perfect for a family afternoon/evening out and guaranteed to have you raving about it to all those you meet. For a sneak peak at what’s in store for you click this youtube link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8gfo9dFmjE.
Cirque Alfonse will be performing at the Southbank Centre in London until 31st December, for ticket information go to: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/timber-84344.
Cirque Alfonse will be performing at the Brighton Dome 2nd-4th January (inclusive). For ticket information go to: brightondome.org/event/4758/timber/.