The South Bank has long been a hub for creative and artistic endeavours of great diversity, whether Watch This Space, the free offerings in front of the National Theatre, the evolution of La Clique into La Soirée, or the comedy-centric programme in the big purple Underbelly. And now we have the newly arrived Priceless London Wonderground, a summer-long festival of cabaret, circus and sideshow centred on the rather wonderful Spielgeltent marquee. Headlining the vast array of shows and running right through til September is Cantina, a steamily bewitching mixture of vaudeville and circus.
The ambience is of old-school faded glamour, snippets of jitterbug and lindyhop intermingle with crooning troubadours and music boxes as a 1930s dressed couple take to a high-wire and all seems relatively straight-forwardly traditional. But Cantina is much more progressive the period might suggest as there’s a wittily subversive take on gender relations here that keep things utterly fresh. So where we are introduced to Henna Kaikula’s audaciously flexible broken doll routine, it is soon countered by David Carberry’s near-naked submission to Chelsea MacGuffin’s stilettoed feet all over his body.
Indeed couples tussle throughout the 70 minute show: men square up to each other in acrobatic combat, the battle of the sexes is given a thrillingly even-handed treatment in sensuous dance. And there’s thrills to be had in solo moments, especially the breath-taking rope skills of Mozes, who also shows us the best way to use a copy of the Telegraph in one of the evening’s more revealingly risqué moments, whose raw presence electrifies the audience.
There’s no narrative to speak of, but in the jaw-dropping moments of circus skill and the wryly amusing cabaret-style humour, it is rarely missed. What we get instead is a highly atmospheric venue filled with boundless physicality and a deeply sexy mood, a company able to grab our attention and willing to toy with it, and us, in a show of great sensuality.