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Barry and Stuart at the Spiegeltent

London is a terrifically wonderful place to be right now. Many, many people have remarked on the transformed atmosphere in the place in the last few weeks due to the Olympics, the fabulous weather, the remaining goodwill from the Jubilee, or what-have-you. Whatever it is, London is certainly charmed at the moment.

And oh, my goodness is there ever so much to do! Among the delights at the moment is the London Wonderground Festival on the South Bank, which I immediately gravitated towards in order to go see the cheeky magician duo Barry and Stuart, and where I will return to catch the charming Fitzrovia Radio Hour in the fall.

Meantimes, perhaps a bit of Cantina. Who knows. I’ve fallen in love with the spiegeltent and am determined to take up residence in it. In which I will keep a Savannah cat and rush about singing ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby‘ in faultless harmony, of course. (But Caitlin, I hear you sigh, the heroine of Bringing Up Baby didn’t live in a spiegeltent. Well, more fool her.)

Anyway. I don’t think it’s an accident that London Wonderground’s boardwalks, tents, and rides resemble Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. It is a little bit like walking into a secret world which is somehow both a childishly fantastical escape and a slightly sinister garden of grown-up pleasures. I pottered about for a bit, enjoying the charmingly old-fashioned side-show feel, then bought a beer and settled into the area outside the spiegeltent to await the start of Barry and Stuart’s show. Just as I was about to open my book (Leave it to Psmith, if you’re wondering) I fell into conversation with a couple of people standing around. We remarked among ourselves as to London’s suddenly open and joyous atmosphere and what a refreshing change it makes. Though I also posited that actually Londoners are actually less taciturn than they like to make out even during the rest of the year. It’s just that people are a bit more relaxed about it.

Above our heads rotated the giant swing. Around us happy punters chattered happily in the unusually warm air. And soon enough, the spiegeltent opened and admitted us.

This particular spiegeltent had a charmingly fin de siècle atmosphere, gently lit by things that resembled but surely were not gas lamps. It was also bedecked throughout with red velvet, covering the booths at the sides which were not in use for this performance and forming the backdrop of the stage. I’d seen another such backdrop recently, at The Horse in Lambeth where Saqarah put on a spectacular one-night resurgence featuring some truly world-class dancing. Everyone should dance in front of a red velvet curtain sometime; it’s so fabulously decadent.

And the swathes of red velvet of course complemented marvellously Barry and Stuarts superb black costumes with subtle red detailing, upon which I have previously remarked (and should probably stop now, before anyone thinks I have developed a fixation.) There are few settings, I should think, that would so perfectly suit a magic show as a proper old-fashioned circus tent replete with all the trappings of the gilded age.

The spiegeltent being situated where it was, the show was punctuated by shrieks from the swing ride and the ghostly rattle of trains passing over Hungerford Bridge, which of course only added to the atmosphere. Though on this occasion the illusions were higher on the scale of gorily humorous than eerily terrifying, which appealed greatly to the boozed-up crowd of late-night revellers. (But you never know when an illusion MIGHT have gone all scary. I positioned myself ready to jump into a neighbor’s lap just in case.)

My favorite tricks of the evening featured a fabulously retro Stylophone, without which no household is complete. (I bet ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby’ sounds AMAZING on the Stylophone.) They ended, to my great delight, with The Pirate Trick, as displayed so charmingly with Craig Revell Horwood on The Magicians. Never fails to make me giggle, that.

Having been topped up with glee to the full extent of my requirements, I walked back out into the charmed London night.

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