A few years ago, it was Circus that seemed set to become the new, exciting genre within theatre. The hegemony of Cirque Du Soleil who, despite their obvious expertise, reduced the tricks of the Big Top to an air-brushed polish, was threatened by a rising generation of aerial artists. The raw edge was being sharpened and stories could be found spinning through the air or balancing on the end of a juggler's staves.
It didn't turn out that way. Immersive theatre became the next big thing, and although circus has the potential to cross over into dance and musical theatre, it is still on the sidelines, appearing like a popular guest star but rarely hitting the headlines.
Timber! arrives in the UK full of almost stereotypical Canadian charms: lumberjack saws, clog-dancing, traditional music (fiddles, banjo and a jaw harp), story-telling and three generations of one Québecois family. It is tempting to see it as being example of a nation trying to sell a vision of itself to potential tourists.
However, Cirque Alfonse have a nice back-story: Alain Carabinier wanted to run away to join the circus as a young man, but got distracted by being a hippy, a father and a champion skier. His children managed to make it to the big top, however, and made a special show that their father could perform, when he turned sixty. It went so well, they didn't have to go back to their day jobs in Cirque du Soleil, Cirkus Cirkör and les 7 doigts de la main, and started the new company.
The plot of Timber! won't detain future generations seeking meaning (there's something about making stew), and the lack of protective kit is as much a display of bravura as a mark of authenticity. But they have traditional live music in the corner (courtesy of members of rowdy folk outfit La Bottine Souriante) and everyone gets to wear a lumberjack shirt, including the two year old grandson.
Timber! By Cirque Alfonse
Wednesday 10 – Wednesday 31 July 2013
Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall