Underbelly Festival Opening Gala @ The Southbank Review

Violet returns to the Southbank, kickstarting another season of the Underbelly Festival. For those who haven’t been, the Underbelly is London’s go-to popup venue for all things comedy, burlesque, circus or generally fringe related. It’s a great opportunity to catch acts before they ship-off (and generally sell-out) to Edinburgh.

Underbelly

The opening gala offers a sampler of this season’s most promising acts as well as short sets from some of the resident performers. Racing through stand-up, circus performance, strip-teases and musical comedy, the experience is a bit like watching a late-night, lewd variety show. At times, the transitions feel a bit jolty making it difficult to adjust gears; one moment you’re laughing raucously at Grindr jokes, the next you’re silently observing an elegant trapeze act. That said, comedian David Morgan is a masterful compere, smoothing out any possible kinks. Indeed, his short segments between the slots offer some of the evening’s best highlights. Comfortably moving between scripted material and on the fly audience participation, he manages to make rather familiar comedy topics (online dating, turning thirty) feel fresh and often hilarious.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of the gala, is witnessing the way acts experiment with form. Bec Hill concludes her set with a nod to handicraft, sharing a cartoon popup of her own making. Using this to interpret the words of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ her bit recalls the days of primary school ‘show and tell’ while remaining resolutely filthy. Ultimately the gag is a disorientating mixture of cute and sleazy, ending on a rather epic crescendo. Equally innovative is Lolo Brow’s slot who models her burlesque performance after Nigella Lawson. Combining traditional moves with sound mashups, it feels like burlesque for the Cassetboy generation— a word of warning, will likely change the way you view cooking shows for the foreseeable future. Circa set their sites on the humble hula hoop, demonstrating that, in the right hands, this seeming toy could be transformed into an art form.

The consistency across the acts is incredibly high, showing once again that the Underbelly has an eye for selecting exciting and distinctive voices; whether sets focussing -predominantly- on surreal one-liners (Rob Deering) or laid-back rumination on emoticons (John Robins) every performance is enjoyable and promises an exciting season ahead. 4/5

Review written by Sean Gilbert.

To find out more about this year’s Underbelly Festival, visit here…

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