Tabarnak: A Canadian swear word and also a cheeky circus show

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Tabarnak had its Adelaide Fringe premiere last year and has returned this year for the last two weeks of the Fringe (how are we in the last week already?!). Another show by the troupe of Cirque Alfonse who brought us Barbu (read our review of that show here).

It is being held in Bonython Hall at University of Adelaide as part of the Royal Croquet Club set up.


“Tabarnak”, Quebecois for “tabernacle” has its origins, as do many of the Quebecois profanities in religion. It’s one of the worst swear words in Quebec. The name of the show hints both at the church setting and also the rebellion against formality and normal circus that we see in this production.



The show is set in a church with a stained glass window prominent at the top centre of the stage. Church pews are moved around and turned sideways as props for great balancing feats in Tabarnak.

The church theme continues with the audience asked to stand for the national anthem, rather than a hymn. The songs, the majority of which are in French, have a strong religious flavour, while retaining a modernity. As with their other production Barbu, Tabarnak features an energetic live three-piece band. Throughout the show we see people on stage feigning dizzy spells in a nod to the commonly seen hysteria and fainting witnessed in some religious settings. We also see one of the female members of Cirque Alfonse seemingly possessed and dancing in a contorted fashion before building up to an incredible speed, spinning around faster and faster before coming to a sudden stop. There is also the amusing baptism scene, which we won’t go into so as not to spoil it. Religious items are also used a props, including an impressive number where the troupe balance, juggle and spin, cups of water (like those used in baptism) attached on rope.


As with their other production, Tabarnak features incredible feats of prowess. We see a tower of three people balanced on each other’s shoulders on more than one occasion, and not always in the traditional straight line either. Or why not climb a top of a pole merely being held on the front of the shoulder of the troupe member below? Incredible even if the audience was at times ill at ease.




The men may appear to be the centre of the show with their muscly torsos on show for the majority of it but the women also kick arse! We see them in feats of balance and strength as well as some impressive whip cracking. The aerial dance performance on the stained glass window now turned into platform suspended in the air was breathtaking. Early on, as with Barbu we see two women in a neck loop spinning horizontally while attached to two men spinning around on rollerblades. I was torn between cringing at the consequences if it went horribly wrong to being in awe at the skill and visual spectacle before me.

If you hadn’t already gathered, Cirque Alfonse do circus differently. This is no ordinary circus troupe and one you must see (and Tabarnak has a PG rating so is ok for the kiddies (no nudity unlike Barbu)). This show is not as frenetic as Barbu, which was full of energy from beginning to end, but rather we see a steady increase in energy levels over the 75 minutes, with an incredibly fun and jaw-dropping end.




Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Fringe


Tabarnak plays every night from now until the end of the Adelaide Fringe. Tickets cost $55 with discounts for Adelaide Fringe members or concession card holders. You can purchase your tickets here:

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