It’s been three days since I saw Scotch & Soda at London Wonderground’s Spiegeltent on the South Bank. And I’m still slightly lost for words - in a good way. It’s the kind of show that you watch with your mouth open, and then later think back on it and wonder if you really just saw what you think you saw.
Scotch & Soda is a unique combination of circus and jazz, performed by the acrobats of Company 2 and the musicians of the Crusty Suitcase band, with skill, flair and a healthy dose of Aussie humour. As the band play, the acrobats showcase a range of incredible tricks, from climbing an impossibly tall tower of boxes to swinging from a trapeze by just a strap around their heads. I spent most of the show holding my breath, waiting to see if everyone would make it out alive (and that includes the audience, by the way - if you’re sitting in the front few rows or near an aisle, look out). I think it’s fair to say the rapturous applause at the end of the show was tinged with relief that everyone was still in one piece.
Because the acrobatic tricks are so amazing, it would be easy for the show to turn into a circus act with background music. And while it’s certainly the stunts that spring most readily to mind looking back on the evening, the arrangement is such that Ben Walsh’s music isn’t just a backdrop, but an essential part of the show. Each member of the band has their moment in the spotlight, and even someone who knows nothing about jazz can tell they’re incredibly talented musicians, who deserve to share the stage equally with their co-stars. Both the music and the circus would work as an independent act, but together they form something special and unique, that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Each member of the cast - acrobats and musicians alike - has their own personality, from the suave Proud Pierre (Lucian McGuiness) to the intense and slightly menacing Bush Stranger (Mozes). These characters are all based on real people and stories from the world of circus and the Australian outback, and the show is made up of a series of individual scenes that combine to create a glimpse into their world as they play, fight… and occasionally get their kit off. Only one scene - in which Lady (Chelsea McGuffin) appears with two budgies - felt like it didn’t fit with the others, although it was certainly charming, and a welcome break from waiting for someone to die. Personally, my favourite characters were the brothers, Daevoud and Kid Lightning (David Carberry and Skip Walker Milne); they’re cheeky chappies who bicker constantly, but as performers clearly have so much trust in each other that they’re able to pull off some mind-blowing stunts.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Scotch & Soda, and I still don’t quite know how to explain it to anyone who asks. Prepare to be terrified, amazed and charmed, to gasp, laugh and occasionally squeak (was that just me? Oh, okay) and you can’t go far wrong.
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