You could hear the sound of jaws thunking, followed swiftly by manic applause and wolf-whistles echoing around the Purcell Room.
This was just one of many ‘screw you gravity’ tricks served up by the impossibly bendy, bouncy and bearded Cirque Alfonse in Timber!, now playing at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
We were invited to the press preview** last week and I had to double check with the PR beforehand if the show would be ok for my 4-year-old (it’s recommended for ages 8+).
She assured me that younger kids were welcome, although I did warn the boys that ‘axe juggling’ was on the cards.
‘That’s one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever heard,’ Ezra said, eyes wide.
He gripped my hand tightly as the show started, but both boys were soon too busy cheering and laughing to worry about blades being tossed around on stage.
This is a fun-loving show, although there are plenty of heart-stopping moments. The madcap crew juggle axes, jump over swinging saws, dangle on ropes and perform mind-boggling balancing feats on logs.
Cirque Alfonse have been brought to the Southbank Centre as part of their Festival of Neighbourhood, lasting through the summer. Timber is inspired by the lumberjack tradition of their native Quebec.
The troupe features real life family and friends:
There’s dad Alain, age 66 (above with the babes); Antoine, his thick-set yet incredibly agile son; Julie, his whip-cracking daughter; her back-flipping husband Jonathan (the star); their 2-year-old Arthur who gets his time in the limelight; and good pal Matias, a tower of strength.
Antoine and Julie, trained performers since childhood, created this tribute show for their dad’s 60th birthday and made him part of the act. Alain is a comic scene-stealer, particularly in one trick involving bungees!
Cirque Alfonse sing in French and speak in broken English and the combo of dancing and acrobatics (and face fur) reminded me of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, one of my favourite films of all time.
We absolutely loved Timber! It’s long (90 minutes without an interval) but it’s fairly easy to dip out for a drink or a toilet break without feeling like you’ve missed too much.
There were quite a few little ones in the audience and everybody, young and old, was spellbound.
After the show, we went to the press party where we met the cast (Ezra in his Where’s Wally costume), and sampled a traditional Quebecois maple syrup treat.
It’s yummy and really easy to make at home, here’s a recipe:
Canadian Maple Syrup Taffy Pops
Fill a baking tray with ice (they use fresh snow in Canada!)
Boil Maple Syrup in a small pot until it reaches 118 degrees centigrade (use a thermometer)
Pour lines of the Maple Syrup along the ice
Wait 30 seconds
Dip a wooden lollipop stick in, twist and roll your ‘taffy pop’ before pulling it out
Pop it straight in your mouth and suck, don’t chew!
Cirque Alfonse: Timber! is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, SE1 (Waterloo/Embankment tube)
Performances 2pm, 4pm & 7.30pm (Tue-Sun, times vary by day); price range £15-£32.50 Recommended for ages 8+ but younger ones welcome.