Tuesday, 16 December 2014

PREVIEW - Timber! at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

LAST summer a family of acrobats burst on to the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage. They wowed audiences with their blend of gravity-defying acrobatics and thrilling tricks with metal saws, axes and logs so much they're back at the Southbank Centre this Christmas for an 11-date run.
Cirque Alfonse is a three-generation strong family of lumberjack performers from Quebec, Canada which was founded in 2005 by Antoine Carabinier-L├ępine.
Its smash hit spectacular Timber! - which the group has been touring around the world for the past three years - brings together circus, theatre, dance, live traditional music and the folklore of Quebec.
It stars the whole family, from 68-year-old grandad Alain to his three-year-old grandson Arthur.
They are supported by three musicians, who are friends of the family and who also do a few tricks of their own.
The action is set in a lumber-camp where there is much merriment and mischief and for 90 minutes audiences are treated to some dangerous, funny and mind bogglingly adventurous stunts.
"It's a real family show in every sense," says Antoine warmly as we chat ahead of the show's opening on Sunday.
"We are all on stage together and combine music, theatre, circus and dance. It's lovely and something really special to be part of. It's very special to share the stage with my family and I feel lucky to be doing this."
Such is the bond between them they have all had a hand in choreographing and devising the show.
"We all put in ideas although our director assembled it," says Antoine. "We all have different specialities and tricks we like to do and most have been incorporated.
"Music is as important as the theatrical part of it," he adds. "It gives an energy to the piece and breathes with us on the stage.
"We all sing songs and the musicians join us in some of the tricks so it's a real ensemble."
Antoine says the show will be much like last year's version although he says there have been a few tweaks along the way and now that Arthur is a bit older he can do a few "forward rolls and handstands".
"He's getting much more used to the stage and also performing," says Antoine. "He's really enjoying it and hasn't missed a show yet!"
The story of how the troop came to being is something of a fairytale. When Alain was growing up his dream was to run away with the circus. However, instead he became a champion skier. When he married his wife they moved to her native Montreal and settled on a farm in the woods of rural Quebec.
When he was 14 Antoine went to see a circus show and immediately fell in love with the idea of becoming an acrobat.
"It was my dream so I went to circus school for three years and ended up on tour for about 15 years before setting up Cirque Alfonse," says Antoine.
"I invited my sister and father to join - so in a way his dream came true after all. He had always wanted to be on stage so we gave him that chance and he is really enjoying it.
"We chose the name because we wanted to be true to our family heritage of lumberjacks and Quebec. As children we lived in the woods and so wood has been a real theme for us in our lives."
And Antoine says it's still "the best job in the world".
"There is nothing better," he says. "We are on stage for 90 minutes doing everything - juggling axes, saws and pieces of wood as well as doing acrobatic work but the best bit is at the end when the audience tell us how much they've enjoyed it."
He admits it is sometimes scary but says if it wasn't it would be dangerous and that trust is key.
"Juggling saws is dangerous," he laughs. "We don't cheat - we use real axes and saws and it's intense and scary - but nothing else gives you that amazing feeling of energy!
"Also the audience feels it more when it's done live. Everyone likes to be a bit scared sometimes and so we expect people to look through their fingers at some points in the show.
"But we trained solidly for three months to perfect the routines because these tools are really heavy and not like the balls or clubs we used at circus school.
"We trust each other completely - that's very important!"

Timber! is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. Tickets cost from £20. Visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

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