Sunday, June 8, 2014

'Saturday Circus' at The Aeronaut, 7th June 2014

The Aeronaut is what happens when a circus crashes headlong into a pub.  It's the kind of place you'd expect to find on The Reeperbahn or perhaps nestled down a modishly raffish Parisian side street.  But nope -  this den of cabaret, swirling music and faint subversion is bang smack in the middle of the otherwise humdrum Acton High Street, within spitting distance of a gigantic Morrisons and two neighbouring  pubs who've gone for a far more traditional "pint of Kronenberg and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps please" aesthetic.  Bo-ring!

You can't fault the landlord for going all out on making this place stand out from the crowd.  There's a lovely pub garden stuffed with tiny sheltered booths, the pub runs its own micro-brewery which churns out their own delicious drinks - even the graphic design is second to none, going for a faux-Victorian/art deco style that looks stylish as hell.  All that said, it's the 'big top' performance room that impresses the most.  Under white and red two-tone canvas there's a sizeable stage with tables and booths nestled around it.  The crowd, composed primarily of groups of friends celebrating birthdays, weddings and anniversaries was primed to enjoy themselves - although I'm not sure they had much of an idea entirely what they were in for.  I certainly didn't.

The Aeronaut's performances land somewhere in the hinterland between burlesque and cabaret: not erotic, but rather rebellious in a cheeky sort of way.  These are performers booked for their skills, whether it be with your traditional juggling/trapeze-y type stuff, being able to do interesting things with their bodies or simply just being pretty damn funny.

Ria Lina
Our compere for the evening was Ria Lina, a tightly wound bundle of energy whose mission objective is simply to wake us the hell up.  Dressed in a very Weimar republic costume she quizzes the audience on who they and why they're here, biting back with sarcastic comments  As far as comperes go she's pretty damn successful, as she stalks between tables, machine-gunning questions at hapless punters you begin to dread her heading towards you, and staring around the audience I found people mentally formulating something basically intelligent to say. 

Jessiye Walters
First on was Jessiye Walters with a hoop routine.  It is, to say the least, an impressive start.  I've been to quite a few shows of this ilk so I'd like to think I can pick out a good hoop act by now.  I've come to the conclusion that it's less being able to spin the hoops - any mug can do that - and more about how well you can stop them.  Walters runs on clockwork precision; the hoops moving in perfect geometry around her body and stopping on a dime.  There's a moment where she tosses a hoop into the air and catches flips and poses with it in one motion that's so fast it's like a martial arts move, drawing a ripple of impressed applause from the audience.

Ian Marchant
Ian Marchant followed; working through an endearing ramshackle juggling routine.  Part of  the thrill of these kinds of acts is feeling empathy for the performer.  Marchant has to be a nice enough guy to make us want him to succeed on stage.  So as he attempts a complex trick: twirling a hoop on his ankle, spinning a basketball on his finger, balancing a tennis racquet on his nose AND juggling at the same time, we really hope he can pull it off.  The first two times he doesn't, the basketball spinning from his finger at a crucial moment.  "Damn", we think "if he can't pull this off it's going to be pretty embarrassing for both of us (but mainly him)".  He does, and our applause is borne of being impressed and relief.

Jackie Le
Up next was Jackie Le on an aerial hoop.  Though Le is obviously impressively skilled, this is perhaps the one act of the evening that doesn't really work in a pub (even a very circus-pub), simply for the fact that the ceiling just isn't high enough to create a real sense of danger.  That the performer could plunge to bone-breaking misery at any moment is what adds spice to an aerial act, but if Le fell from here she might perhaps sprain her ankle.  As she twists and turns I do feel a twinge of jealousy - I wish I could do things like that - and, at minimum, with the lights swirling around her she makes for an eye-catching spectacle.

Mixed into the middle is a performance by our compere where she drags people up from the audience to be backing dancers for Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.  Pulling volunteers from this audience felt a bit like pulling teeth, I was a dreading being press-ganged into service myself.  That said, there was one wimp from the audience who got up on stage, went to prepare and promptly chickened out!  The whole thing was eventually saved by some guy called George, who managed - I'm still not quite sure how - to salvage some dignity from the situation, returning to his seat (and his date) with the crowd chanting his name.

Laurence Owen
Up next was, as far as I'm concerned, the undisputed highlight of the night: Laurence Owen.  He plays just two songs, one about Halloween costumes and one about the career prospects of a woman in a Disney film, both of which utterly slay the crowd.  In a night that's largely about physical feats, his are mental and literary.  Of the two, the best is the epic exploration of misogyny in Disney; not exactly a subject that leaps out as a crowd-pleaser, but as he switches characters and pumps out killer rhyme after killer rhyme the audience laps it up like starving children.  In a quickfire cabaret night like this he's the one I want to track down again as soon as I can.  His songs can't all be this good.. can they?

Iona the Contortionist
Closing out the night is Iona the Contortionist.  Acts like these always send a shiver up my spine and god only knows what it's doing to hers.  I am annoyingly inflexible, the idea of what it's like to bend into a pretzel with feet pressed over your face is kind of alien to me.  Wearing a slickly organic bodysuit I imagine I can see her organs moving around under her skin.  It's a mixture of horror and impressiveness - imagining the time, effort and pain that goes into being able to move like this.

If you're after a memorable birthday, or simply just want an night slightly out of the ordinary The Aeronaut is the place to be.  Mashing up pub and circus is a slightly odd idea, but it's one that works undeniably well.  I don't know Acton too well, but this has got to be one of the best things around - well worth an expedition to the hinterlands of Zone 3.

The Aeronaut holds performances 9-11pm every Friday and Saturday, £8 entry.  Try to arrive at 8ish to get a good seat.

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