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Fringe review: Tabarnak

Adelaide Fringe

Knitting, whip cracking, roller-skating, whirling dervishes and a baptism are all part of the weird and whacky religious experience that is Cirque Alfonse’s Tabarnak. ★★★½

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Many Fringe-goers will be familiar with French Canadian circus company Cirque Alfonse from their previous show Barbu, a wild musical circus spectacular inspired by the acts presented in Montreal fairgrounds more than a century ago and performed by four muscular bearded blokes and two flexible female acrobats.

This time around, they’ve turned to a Quebec village church for inspiration, promising “a celebration of Heaven and Hell and everything in between” with the troupe’s own “unbridled high mass”. The show takes its name from French Canadian slang: “tabarnak” (from tabernacle) is one of a group of profanities based on words related to Catholicism, and its use here is intended to signal a rebellious streak.

When the Saturday-night audience finally filed into the Peacock (an hour after the programmed start time and more than 80 minutes after we started queuing), we were met with a strange tableau on stage: white-shirted performers sitting on wooden pews were knitting and crocheting, surrounded by old paintings, games, wooden tennis rackets, skis, even a lifejacket.

There ensued a game of ice hockey, after which the props were swiftly swept away and the show launched into some toe-tapping song (“please stand for the national anthem”) and dance, bizarre sketches and an eclectic collection of acrobatic feats.

Among the latter, standouts included daring routines on roller-skates, precariously balanced human pyramids and acrobatics performed atop tall poles balanced on the shoulders of the more burly cast members. There were some impressive displays of both strength and flexibility, made more thrilling by the fact there is no safety net.

The band – perched on high at the rear of the stage and playing instruments including electric guitar, fiddle, keyboard, double bass and percussion – was a highlight throughout, especially the energetic drummer (credited on the Cirque Alfonse website as St Josie de Laporte).

However, Tabarnak lacks cohesion, and while Fringe audiences are primed to expect the unexpected, some of the elements – the on-stage baptism, whirling dervishes in knitted bell-shaped garments and astrology readings, for example – seemed too random.

The show also lacks the consistent high energy level and humour of Barbu, but there is plenty to savour for festival-goers who like their Fringe circus on the bonkers side – especially if they’ve had time to drink a bottle of wine while waiting to enter.

Tabarnak is being performed in the Peacock at Gluttony until March 18. Read more InDaily Fringe reviews and stories here.

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