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Tabarnak review at Underbelly’s Circus Hub, Edinburgh – ‘more pious than praiseworthy’

Tabarnak, deriving from ‘tabernacle’ (the cupboard you keep the wine and wafers in at church), is a Canadian French expletive used to add emphasis to a point. It is employed rather like the F-word but with ecclesiastical etymology.

Cirque Alfonse has a fair amount within its circus spectacular to make you exclaim “Tabarnak”, with acrobats somersaulting through the air at impressive heights from a Russian swing and Nikolas Pulka wowing on the aerial straps.

Yet, despite a stage crowded with fun looking props – from hockey sticks to roller skates – the experience has more in common with an overlong snoozy Sunday service than religious ecstasy. 

A scene from Tabarnak. Photo: Guillaume Morin

Without the massive stained-glass window hanging above, you could be forgiven for missing the church theme. It’s tenuous, with costumes that more closely resemble chef whites crossed with A Clockwork Orange and music which, although deftly performed, lacks spirit. 

Circus doesn’t automatically equal clowning – having plenty of scope for the emotive, the weepy and the sublime – but it should never be boring. Though undeniably skilled, the artists perform their acts po-faced. An accomplished routine featuring incense burners employed as poi is delivered with a deadly seriousness that excludes the audience. Even a comic skit featuring an extreme baptism lacks humour, with a seeming unwillingness to lean into the ridiculous. 

The finale of Tabarnak offers a glimpse of the ensembles’ geniality as they are joined by their children on stage. It’s frustrating – too little too late for this show that could have been seriously special if delivered with less pomp and more heart. [1]

Canadian French circus takes you to church but is more pious than praiseworthy 


Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows
August 4, 2018
August 25, 2018
David Simard
Alain Francoeur
Francis Farley
Nicolas Descoteaux
Sarah Balleux
Hugo Hamel, Nicolas Descoteaux (technical directors)
Cast includes
Antoine Carabinier Lepine, Julie Carabinier Lepine, Jonathan Casaubon, Jean-Philippe Cuerrier, Genevieve Morin, Nikolas Pulka, Josianne Laporte, David Simard, Guillaume Turcotte.
Cirque Alfonse
Running time
1hr 10mins