Review: Circolombia (Underbelly, South Bank)

The Colombian circus troupe return to London with their jaw-dropping show infused with late-night bravado


The disclaimer when writing about a high-octane circus show like this one is that it's all pretty flippin' mind-blowing at the end of the day. There are just too many feelings involved. Whether pure ecstasy, or something more poignant, or just blind terror – it's hard enough to walk down the emotional tightrope without having to juggle all your critical balls at the same time. As it were.

But I wouldn't want to be churlish. Not after witnessing some poor acrobat balancing a huge great metal ring on his forehead – while a gymnast coils herself round it – twisting at leisure into geometric shapes that were hitherto undreamt-of by the finest minds in mathematics.

This is Circolombia. The 14-strong Colombian troupe are finishing their world tour at the Underbelly Southbank Festival this summer. If you were lucky enough to see an Argentinian gig-style circus show called Fuerzabruta at London's Roundhouse a few years back, you'll know that the South Americans like their carnival atmosphere as raw as possible.

It's au revoir! then, to Cirque du Soleil's rich patisserie of colour and costumery, and ¡hola! to the pulsating nightmare world of a Bogota nightclub. Filled with rap and reggaeton – and of course those risky, risky stunts – Felicity Simpson's music-focused show kinda feels like a good night out.

A man hoists himself skywards, using only a rope tied round his face, while a second performer clings to his legs. Just imagine that insane sight at 4am after knocking back a few caipirinhas. Often these high-skilled moves are made to look like lucky feats of late-night bravado – and the performers' looks of surprise or cheeky glee as they nail them one by one – 'Hey, look what I can do!' – suit that to a tee.

The troupe perform in jeans and look a bit pleased with themselves when they catch you looking at their biceps. Above all – they are real, vulnerable humans. They'd probably pick their noses if they could.

Expect singing, too, because they're keen to get on the mics. You'll have to speak Spanish to know what's going on, but the themes seem to be, in a pretty generic sense, struggle and aspiration. It's fitting of a company that was set up in 2006 to give performing opportunities to disadvantaged youths.

Maybe more could have been done to give it all a bit of a story, and link up all the little episodes that give rise to these awe-inspiring aerial stunts. Maybe that just doesn't matter. Ultimately, what's special about Circolombia is just how close you feel to the performers. Get in early and head for the front row.