A potent combination of live jazz and circus acts, Scotch & Soda is a hell of a show. Held in Underbelly’s Wonderground theatre, the space is rigged out saloon-style, with a round stage taking central focus. The feel is a cross between 1900s street urchins and an old-timey Wild West circus, with cast members decked out in tattered pantaloons, neckerchiefs and corsets. This is an Australian Wild West though, performed and devised by an Australian company, and with all the characters based on ye olde tales from the Aussie outback.
Circus wunderkind Chelsea McGuffin is the brains behind the outfit, along with Company 2, who brought us the smash hit ‘Cantina’ back in 2012 and ‘La Clique’ in 2010. They formed Scotch & Soda to showcase their signature death-defying acrobatic stunts, but with a new twist: everything is performed to live jazz beats. The cast are joined by the Crusty Suitcase Band on stage, led by Ben Walsh, one of Australia’s most respected drummers.
The band creates a ragtag mix of blues, funk, gypsy rhythms and jazz that amp up the already spectacular performances into a perfectly tumultuous beating heart of energy. All the cast’s raucous antics are done in time to a swinging beat, and members dart in and out of the audience, making it feel as if you’re in the midst of the best house party you’ve ever attended (with some ridiculously talented guests). The only pitfall is that you have to stay seated, when the urge is to jump up and dance.
Paired with a series of gasp-inducing, breath-holding circus acts, the effect is mesmerising. Ropes and trapezes are strung up for the cast to spin around, balance on and generally keep the audience on a tightrope of suspense with. Muscular men have a ‘balance off’, doing handstands on a rapidly escalating, teetering pile of boxes, shimmy up a freestanding Chinese pole, and perform some spectacularly impressive tricks on a moving bicycle. They’re feats that need to be seen to be believed, and here you’re seeing it right in front of your nose as acts leap and swing mere feet away from you.
Despite the ragtag costumes and boisterous antics, the overall show is incredibly charming. Jaunty, unapologetically naughty and impossible to take your eyes off, it’s everything that a good circus should be. So if it’s a rip-roaring good time you’re looking for, go along and let Scotch & Soda entertain you. You won’t regret it.
Scotch & Soda is at the London Wonderground Theatre until the 2nd of August.
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road Coach Park, London, SE1 8XX, UK, +44 8445 458 282