Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 29th August 2019
“packed with skill, showmanship and a great sense of fun”
Billed as circus for grownups, ‘Rouge’, directed by Elena Kirschbaum, certainly walks a very fine line between good fun and full on debauchery, displaying a combination of both traditional acrobatic circus performances, and very risqué burlesque acts. Take for example the dominatrix with a strap-on carrot, whipping roses with dangerous precision from the genitals of unicorn subs – not likely to be seen at the likes of Cirque du Soleil.
We’re introduced to the show by a very saucy leather-clad Paul Westbrook (also the show’s choreographer), who sets the playful and inclusive tone for the evening, welcoming “ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary.”
The soundtrack mirrors Westbrook’s welcome to all, varying drastically from bass-heavy electro swing to Shirley Bassey’s ‘Big Spender’; a hula-hoopist wearing a lampshade on her head performs first to Nora Jones’ inoffensive ‘Turn me On’ (Get it? Because she’s a lamp?) and later reappears topless, to Nicki Minaj’s much more raucous song by the same name.
There are no safety nets, and the space isn’t quite as lofty as a normal circus tent, so there are many occasions where the performers are higher than the lighting rigs, almost grazing the ceiling, and falling with what is no doubt a calculated risk, but to an untrained eye, looks genuinely treacherous. Of course there’s ne’er a moment where the acts themselves look worried, and all are clearly highly skilled but it does feel a little bit homespun and not quite as slick as it might be. This does seem, however, to be what keeps the evening from slipping into excessive seediness, despite the overt hedonism and sensuality of some of the acts: it’s the sense of community, and the enjoyment the cast clearly still takes from their joint performances, and their giddiness as they comes off stage.
The sense of danger and titillation is fairly consistent throughout, and there is a slight lacking in theatrical build. With a variety show of this nature, I would generally expect each act to top the next, and for the show to end in a giant extravaganza of shock and awe, which unfortunately it does not.
Regardless, ‘Rouge’ is packed with skill, showmanship and a great sense of fun. An excellent way to spend a late summer evening, but be sure to book a babysitter, this is not one for the kids.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Ian Georgeson
Underbelly Festival Southbank until 15th September
Previously reviewed at this venue: