If there are two things we like at 21st Century Burlesque Magazine it’s infectious toe tapping jazz matched up with stonkingly good circus. Scotch and Soda, a marriage of the two, in the ever beautiful Spiegeltent on the South Bank, has the ingredients to be a very exciting show over the coming months.
After the success of Cantina and Limbo – which seemed to be playing in London for several decades judging by the amount of posters that were on the underground – expectations are high for Company 2’s new output. This time sees them creating a pastiche of old Australia. Now, there are those who will tell you that Australia lacks culture, good thing that Scotch and Soda is here to prove this incorrect. From what’s on offer tonight clearly there is: drinking, fighting, bad facial hair and waving your cock at strangers while incoherently babbling the word “margaret”. A lot of Australians seem to want to get away from the association of Australia being full of mad convicts, the kind of people deemed not fit for British society. This show seems to openly celebrate that fact, as the cast play out a relentless game of one-upmanship through the duration of the show, while wearing what can only be described as old-time hillbilly outback chic.
There are some great elements here. One thing that stands out is the circus trick bicycle. It’s fantastic. There should be more of it in shows. This skill seems to have gone out of fashion over the last few decades, which is perhaps why it works so well here, given that everything is drenched in layers of nostalgia. The image that you’ll see on a lot of the promo is probably my favourite moment of the show. Without dropping too many spoilers, elsewhere the partnership acrobatics of David Carberry and Skip Walker Milne are consistently high level and at points really interesting and different.
The music is ever present in this show and often right at the front of the action. Thankfully The Crusty Suitcase Band are exceptional. Composed by Ben Walsh for the show, the score skips around from ompa big brass, to freeform and is full of experimental wonderings. This is fabulous jazz which controls all of the action and tension of the show. It is the rhythm, the energy and the personality.
Company 2 have been steadily honing their skills, working in this kind of space, mixing high-level acrobatics with musicians often inter-relating to each other. This is definitely a proven formula. The problem is that it isn’t as good here as either Limbo or Cantina. While there are some big moments, the show never lifts to the otherworldly, and while the energy is high and the characters engaging, some parts don’t really go anywhere. The rope act and the duo-trapeze don’t soar high enough (though the solo trapeze certainly does) and there is a part featuring budgies that is different, but didn’t work well on the night I saw it – and I couldn’t imagine what it would have added if the birds had been obeying their mistress better.
Perhaps, the problem here is that instead of taking us to a new world, Scotch and Soda brings us a Disneyfied version of the past. Without the full frontal nudity, some elements felt like they might have been more at home at Australialand and at what point are we going past pastiche and hitting lazy cultural stereotypes, even if there is the distance of time? With so much international circus shows, as well as the very best of work produced in the UK coming through London this year, we really are spoiled for choice. Though it is funny and has its own charm, Scotch and Soda needs to find its own voice if it is to live up to the legacy of previous shows, rather than just reworking the elements that made them so successful.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.