Friday, May 11, 2007

Heavenly Bodies

The Caesar Twins, Udderbelly, Brighton Festival Fringe, 10th May 2007

Last year’s La Clique at the gloriously decadent Spiegeltent was undoubtedly the highlight of my 2006 Brighton Festival (see my previous blog Beautiful Freaks), and remains the subject of fond reminiscences among the group friends with whom I went. The combination of a uniquely atmospheric venue and a quirky mix of sideshow cabaret acts - all held together with a mutual sense of twisted eccentricity – appealed to my theatrical heritage, and sparked an interest in the Burlesque scene, which has since led me onto other events such as Lost Vagueness. Sadly, both the Spiegeltent and La Clique are conspicuously absent from this year’s festival - the former being replaced by a giant upturned purple cow, The Udderbelly, which is currently dominating the Steine gardens along with a collection of smaller animals. One of the acts appearing at this unusual venue is The Caesar Twins – a Polish acrobatics outfit (& yes, they are really twins) who have previously toured as part of La Clique (though not when I saw it), and were recently described by the Brighton Argus as: “like seeing a whole circus but with just two performers”. After all the hype - including an interview on the oh-so-glamorous BBC South Today - I was keen to judge for myself, and braved the elements last night to meet some friends in the Asahi Pasture (the official Fringe bar) ahead of my first festival outing of 2007.

The atmosphere in the beer tent beforehand was somehow enhanced by the inclement weather outside - as the usual festival suspects huddled together round the gas heaters, leaving it ‘til the very last minute to dash across the muddy gardens and into the colourful bovine arena. Rather letting down its strikingly wacky exterior, the inside of the Udderbelly is disappointingly underwhelming – especially in comparison to its lavish predecessor. This may partly account for the general lacklustre vibe of the show itself. It’s amazing how much the context can contribute to the overall experience of a performance – and this was a prime example. The acrobatic feats themselves were indisputably astounding, even at times arousing, but as a production it lacked the drama and atmosphere of La Clique. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner put her finger on the problem when reviewing the show for the Guardian last year, rightly observing that: “what has a big wow factor in small doses in cunningly produced shows such as the knowingly naughty La Clique, looks mighty thin when stretched to 80 minutes in a traditional theatre”.

Despite my artistic reservations, I couldn’t say I was ever actually bored during the performance. There were some interesting (if not particularly well executed) ideas in place, and I found the whole set-up intriguing from a psychological perspective – closely contemplating not just the (frankly, fucking hot) bodies of Pablo and Pierre, but the intricacies of their twin-ship, and the way in which it evidently affects their onstage relationship - both physical and otherwise. This was reinforced by various photo and video montages of their lives together – from childhood gymnastic tournaments, right up to a near-fatal accident in which Pablo fell 40ft from the ‘Wheel of Death’ during a live performance in 2002. These more serious elements were balanced out by some welcome moments of humour, such as a cheeky stunt in which one of the twins cunningly flicked off his trousers mid-backflip, whilst bouncing on a giant inflatable mattress (kind of like a bouncy castle without sides). This saucy manoeuvre had most of the girls in the audience instantly shedding layers of clothing and fanning themselves, while the menfolk shuffled in their seats, self-consciously contemplating their paunches. A torrent of giggling girls in the ladies’ loo afterwards was testament to the rousing effects of this dextrous duo – perhaps best summed up as the thinking woman’s answer to the Chippendales…

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