London looks its finest from the Hungerford Bridge, after work on a balmy summer evening. Memories of the office fade away, swallowed up by crowds of tourists, and the sight of that iconic skyline over the River Thames. And last Thursday evening was the perfect night to perve over London - warm, sunny and full of the promise of summer. I was trotting over that particular bridge with the Accidental Cousin, to explore the Southbank Centre's annual London Wonderground festival which opened earlier this month. London Wonderground offers up music and performance, all with a side of weirdness and wonder. Its tiny cabins have recently returned along the river, selling food and drink beneath strings of twinkly lights, forming a wooden fairy ring around the festival's main venue - an impressive Speigeltent.
Up above the footpath along the river, the Speigeltent presides over an open terrace bar, where seating takes the form of wooden dodgem cars, and the walls are plastered with show posters. As fortunate invitees to press night of 'LIMBO' - London Wonderground's headline show - we tucked into a free glass of wine or two, and soaked up some early evening rays before being summoned into the tent by dapper ring attendants, to take our seats for the show.
The show opened with an introduction to the musical director of this spectacle - a white-suited, harmonica-brandishing St. Peter - who called out the cast of performers, and forced them to play for his acceptance and their release from limbo. A contortionist bent himself inside out (impressive if you've never witnessed a Bikram yoga class), a tap dancer transformed himself into the world's campest, best-groomed horse, and a sword-swallower in sparkly underwear knocked back an illuminated light sabre or two. (I felt somewhat sorry for this performer by the end of her vigorous evening - there is not enough underwire in the world to convince me that doing acrobatics in one's underwear is anything other than deeply painful.) St. Peter meanwhile - occasionally huffing into his harmonica - commanded an electro-oompah band who played ever onwards, keeping the show continually moving and the performers on their toes.
Beat-boxing introduced pole-climbing, and balancing acts gave way to people vanishing out of boxes. We saw fire, smoke, feathers, cracking whips and breaking chains. By the time five of the artists bolted wobbly-looking poles around the stage, and climbed to the top of them, the audience was gripped. As the poles began to sway and ultimately fling the performers above the heads of the awe-struck watchers, people were gasping and flinching at the carefully-choreographed near misses. We felt a little sorry for the elegant hoop artist who followed this act and closed the show - after such a thrilling spectacle everything seemed tame by comparison. The crowd was wowed, and clearly so was St. Peter, who finally returned to the stage to welcome this bendy, brave and freaky lot in through his pearly gates.
LIMBO combined humour and energy with impressive acts of strength, skill and focus, and kept the audience completely engrossed for the entire show. We were still chatting about all the things we had witnessed on our way back to the Tube later that evening. If you fancy a little alternative entertainment this summer, go and check out London Wonderground for yourself. It will be down on the Southbank until the end of September, and you can find a full range of shows and performances on its website here. Just don't expect it to be much like the West End...this is performance designed to surprise and awe. And LIMBO certainly doesn't disappoint.