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Preview: The Underbelly Festival Southbank 2017

| Comedy, Dance, Festivals | 15/05/2017

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The Underbelly Festival Southbank 2017 is up and running, with a roll call of stellar entertainers taking to the stage before the distinctive purple dome gets dismantled at the end of September.  

And this year’s festival, presented by Hilton, promises to be better than ever, bringing together two slightly smaller offerings – Udderbelly and London Wonderland – into a summer-long, one-stop shop for comedy, circus and variety shows.  

Whatever your tastes, there seems to be something for everyone.  Plus, with free entry into the complex, there are few better spots to enjoy a beer and decent street food in a festival atmosphere, nestled beneath the London Eye and overlooking the splendour of Westminster.

FullSizeRender-1By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

In recent months, Underbelly’s organisers have been heavily promoting their impressive list of circus, cabaret and variety acts.  These include a new production from acclaimed circus troupe Casus, Flip FabriQue‘s hit show Catch Me (or, in their native Québécois French, Attrape Moi) and a UK premiere from cult ‘boylesque’ group Briefs.  It’s understandable why.  In this era of special effects and CGI, watching performers defy gravity and logic before your very eyes is hard to top.

But given its key role as a prime platform for top-notch stand-ups at the Edinburgh Fringe – selling 234,000 tickets for over 140 shows last year alone – Underbelly tends to be more associated with comedy.  And that’s where Londoners’ gazes will invariably gravitate towards when looking through this year’s line up.

To that end, the Southbank festival serves two important functions in the comedy calendar.  First, it provides some performers with a chance to tighten up their new material ahead of the higher-profile and less forgiving Edinburgh Fringe.  Additionally, it can also give London audiences one more – often final – chance to catch established shows that blew away audiences last August under the Scottish sun.

FullSizeRenderLast week saw a great example of the latter, with Richard Gadd‘s award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do standing out once again for its bravery, originality and honesty.  Few comedies focus on a life-changing rape; even fewer feature the comic narrating the event and its profound mental impact while pounding a treadmill for 50 minutes.

Gadd is performing the show at Edinburgh again this year, and – beyond that – it’ll be fascinating to see what he does next after such a personal and offbeat production.

It wasn’t easy viewing: a couple left after 10 minutes, while those who remained spent a fair chunk of time wondering whether to laugh or despair at the human condition.  It says much for Gadd’s skill as a performer that laughter usually won out and the applause at the end was long, loud and heartfelt.

This week’s Underbelly Festival highlights are a little more accessible, with Catch Me starting its dizzying daily performances from Wednesday (7.30pm), ever popular BAFTA nominees Cardinal Burns bringing their inventively hilarious sketches on Friday (9.15pm) and character comedian Anna Morris acting out her well-observed wedding-based comedy on Saturday (7.45pm).

Looking further ahead over the coming weeks and months, What’s On London are especially excited by:

Sara Pascoe: Animal (25th May)

John Robins: The Darkness of Robins (30th May)

James Acaster: Classic Scrapes (12th June)

Al Murray: The Pub Landlord’s Summer Salon (16th and 17th June)

Norris & Parker: See You at the Gallows (7th July)

Kieran Hodgson: Maestro (11th July)

For tickets and the full summer schedule, head to Underbelly’s official website.  The festival runs every day until 30th September 2017, apart from Mondays.UFS_logo_450x300

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